Q&A: Artists Against TTIP

Published October 7, 2015

The line between the arts and politics has always been cigarette paper thin; whether it’s the long history of lending support to social movements or just simply through the explorations taking place on stages across London every night as playwrights put the most pertinent, pressing questions facing the world under the spotlight.

Back in July, a brand new campaign was added to this history when the Young Vic helped launch a brand new movement. Alongside supporters including Mark Rylance, Juliet Stevenson and Vivienne Westwood, award-winning theatre director Carrie Cracknell revealed full details of Artists Against TTIP. But even with these recognisable names speaking out, you’d be forgiven for not even knowing how to pronounce it (tee-tip for reference) let alone what TTIP stands for or why actors, directors, musicians and designers are fast joining the movement to take a firm stance against it.

To find out more we spoke to Artists Against TTIP’s founder Cracknell to put together a guide to exactly what Artists Against TTIP is fighting against and why they believe theatremakers – and you – can help take a stand.

What is TTIP?

TTIP is a vast trade deal that is currently being negotiated between America and the European Union. The scope of the trade deal is huge, and in simple terms its aim is to reduce “barriers to trade” between the EU and US. However, what it means in concrete terms is an enshrining of corporate power over democratic power on a scale and depth never before imagined. The potential ramifications threaten our environment, public services, food quality and the fabric of our democracy.

The reason why thousands of civil society organisations across America and Europe are really anxious about TTIP is that it is set to increase the power of large corporations relative to democratically elected governments. In essence the trade deal will reduce EU standards and regulations to US levels in order to allow large corporations to save money and cut costs. However, these “obstacles to trade” are vital standards which allow us to protect our environment and our health.

TTIP also seeks to create a special court system which allows corporations to sue governments if they pass laws which damage their profits. Similar court systems have seen corporations sue governments for putting cigarettes in plain packaging or raising the minimum wage. These courts will be private and will not have a jury. In essence it will create a separate and secret judicial system which is just for the use of corporations.

All of this is being negotiated with high levels of secrecy between the European Commission and the US trade department. While corporate lobbyists have plenty of access to officials, our elected representatives can only see negotiating texts in closed rooms and can’t tell us – their constituents – of any of the detail.

How did Artists Against TTIP come to be?

My brother, Jon Cracknell, is an environmentalist. We were having lunch and he started explaining TTIP to me and the fears he had about it. Immediately it struck terror in my heart and we started talking then about the campaign against TTIP and how I might be able to get involved. The two of us dreamt up this idea about setting up Artists Against TTIP.

When I’m directing work I get the opportunity to talk to the press all the time about a whole range of social issues as well as my work. It became really clear that the anti-TTIP campaign was struggling to get public exposure and press interest, so we started to think about the people who I work with and who I know could talk about this issue and try and break it down for people.

Which artists have signed up so far?

More than 30 high profile actors, directors, writers and artists have pledged their support to Artists Against TTIP so far, including Romola Garai, Alison Goldfrapp, Henry Goodman, Helen McCrory, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Scott and Vivienne Westwood.

Does TTIP have any implications for the arts?

It looks as though TTIP could pose a threat to arts funding and German arts organisations have been at the forefront of drawing attention to this.  But at the moment it is hard to know exactly what the threat is for the arts sector because the negotiations are happening in secret and civil society groups are having to rely on occasional leaked documents to understand the finer details of what is being proposed. The founding idea behind Artists Against TTIP, however, was to draw attention to the wider democratic implications.

France has specifically asked for its audio/visual industry to be exempt from negotiations. Should we be similarly concerned about the UK’s cultural offerings?

What’s interesting is that each country has its own areas which it wants to protect and its own ‘red line’ issues; each nation wants to protect different elements of its own culture. What France felt very strongly about was protecting its audio/visual industry, the UK hasn’t taken similar action. Because the UK government is strongly pro TTIP there have been no attempts to protect any element of the UK arts scene in that way.

How do you envisage artists helping the public engage in this issue?

There are a whole range of ways artists can get involved. The first is to get informed, to go online and read the material available on the Artists Against TTIP website, the War on Want website, Global Justice Now – two of the NGOs at the centre of the campaign – to understand the issue as much as possible. We’ve then been asking high profile actors, writers, directors, artists and musicians to come and be briefed by us so they feel comfortable to talk to the press about it and keep raising the issue publically.

One of the other things we’re looking to start doing is to try and make short films, try and get plays commissioned and ask artists to reflect on it in their work.

What work will Artists Against TTIP create?

At the moment the plan is to make a series of short films. We’re also looking at doing a photography exhibition where we look at the effects of deregulation: what happens to people’s lives when dangerous chemicals are being used extensively or when health and safety rules are no longer being implemented. The realities of deregulation seem to many people a very dry idea, so we’re trying to give that a visual identity. We’re also talking to a group of different musicians about doing a series of benefit gigs to try and raise awareness.

People have argued that TTIP could boost the UK economy by £10 billion.

It’s very hard to predict what the impact of TTIP would be and corporations of course always use the argument that it will increase jobs and trade. A lot of the economic claims that were made by proponents at the start of the negotiations have subsequently been debunked, and even the consultants hired by the European Commission have acknowledged that at least a million jobs are likely to be lost across the EU and the United States.

TTIP is something that can be used and utilised much more efficiently by big multi-national corporations than it can by small and medium enterprises, so there is a risk that lots of mid-scale and local British businesses will be damaged by TTIP and find it even more difficult to compete.

More than three million people have signed the European Citizens Initiative petition against TTIP. Do you think that is going to be enough?

It’s really hard to know how the negotiations will play out. My brother always uses this brilliant analogy of the negotiations being like a long train made up of lots of carriages, with each carriage focused on a different thematic issue. If you can derail one or two carriages, you can send the whole thing off into the sidings. The hope of the campaign against TTIP is to find many disruptions and put many difficulties in the pathway of the negotiations to slow it down so much that it becomes impossible. Obviously outpourings of public anxiety are really useful. We can always build on that more and one of the things we’ll really try and do is use the profile of people on social media to try and drive more people to find the petition.

Can anyone get involved and support the Artists Against TTIP campaign?

Absolutely. Sign up on the website to get all the emails we’re sending out. The aim is to have a point of focus and energy for people to get involved and learn about the campaign.

People need to keep talking to each other about TTIP, they need to write to their MEPs or tweet MEPs asking questions about their position on TTIP and being provocative as to why MEPs are signing up in support of it.

You can watch a video above explaining TTIP featuring actors including Ruth Wilson, Juliet Stevenson and Andrew Scott.