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Transatlantic drift

USA, EU [POLITICS]

When US president Barack Obama and EU leaders launched negotiations to create the world’s biggest free-trade area in June 2013, they were full of promises that the US-EU deal would generate millions of new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and inject €119bn a year into Europe’s sluggish economies. By removing tariffs, cutting red tape and harmonising regulation on everything from cosmetics testing to car-safety standards, each family in the EU would be €545 better off every year thanks to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – ttip in EU parlance.

So why, over two years later, is the deal still the subject of political brawling, with negotiations stumbling almost as soon as they began? Firstly, 28 EU nations with very different cultural and economic concerns had to come up with a common negotiating position. At least the governments agreed that ttip was a good idea: the general public, however, was not so sure. Protests are growing in number, with a coalition of environmental groups, transparency campaigners and unions determined to make their concerns heard on everything from genetically modified crops to inadequate US workplace standards.

The key sticking point is the investor-state dispute settlement clause, which allows foreign companies to challenge government decisions by independent arbitration rather than national courts. Opponents fear this puts too much power in the hands of big business. EU officials hastily arranged a public consultation but opposition remains fierce.

The US, meanwhile, is waiting patiently for its partners to reassure their electorates, and every few months more than 100 negotiators from each side return to the table to tackle the fine detail. But hope is dwindling that ttip will ever become a reality: Europe may have to wait a little longer for their cheap American trainers and standardised seatbelts.

Labour pains

UK [POLITICS]

Parties which lose elections in the UK tend to ditch their leader and fight among themselves, trying to work out why they lost and how they might win again. After Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, it took the Conservatives three leaders and 13 years before David Cameron’s success in 2010.

Labour failed with their first reinvention – losing again in May – and few party members are confident they can do better in 2020. The debate, so far, has been soporific; hustings have been aimed at members rather than new supporters. The leader will be announced in September but unless anything dramatic occurs, Labour may end up repeating the exercise in five years.

Election watch: Portugal

Economic conundrum

Date: 4 October
Type: Parliamentary
Candidates: The governing centre-right coalition of the Social Democrats and cds-pp is running a single list of candidates in an effort to project stability. Its main opponent is the Socialist party, which will need to come from a long way behind – but polls suggest it could be close.
Issues: The key question is whether the present government, which has steered Portugal through its bailout and out of recession, can persuade the people that austerity is still worth it.
Monocle comment: Portugal isn’t improving quickly but it hasn’t turned into Greece. It’s a tough choice for voters.

Q&A- Alexandre Farto, AKA ‘Vhils’

Street artist, Portugal

At 28, armed with a hammer drill, Vhils spends half the year carving political figures and everymen on neglected walls around the world. This summer he became the first street artist in his country to receive a Portuguese knighthood.

You said you accepted this honour in the name of a ‘despised generation’. Who were you talking about?
Those aged 35 to 40 who, due to this economic crisis, have had to emigrate. This exodus is depriving southern European countries like Portugal from the capacities of a whole generation. These are people whose education the state financed. An alienated generation is at risk of more extreme behaviour.

How can art help?
Art doesn’t solve problems but it can bring attention to them. At an urban space, it can promote culture and economy, making cities more beautiful. Lisbon is an example: street artists are no longer part of the problem but part of the solution.

Why did you choose to work with segregated communities?
I grew up close to one of these neighbourhoods. From public-housing rehabilitation in Portugal to expropriations in Brazil or forced evictions in China, once you carve a face on a wall you put issues in the public eye. That can help make a change.

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