Admittedly, this sounds somewhat obscure. But here is how it could actually happen: the EU and the USA are currently negotiating a free-trade agreement.
Traditional free-trade agreements are about how much custom duties one has to pay when bringing, say, a ton of grapefruit from Florida to Finland. But customs are already low between the EU and the USA.
The only obstacles that remain are of a different kind: for example the shape of electricity sockets or food hygiene standards. So the new free-trade agreement will not really be about trade, but about the many small things that affect our everyday life.
When you ask the EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht why he wants to negotiate something so complicated, he says, "because it will bring economic growth." How much? "0,05% per year."
When you say that is not much he says something funny.
To make all that economic growth possible, Karel De Gucht talks to many companies, like BMW, Nokia, or Brussels Airlines. They can all submit their wish lists for the free-trade agreement.
Now, you might find funny that he has asked nobody else to submit a wish list.
But – no problem, he says. Anybody can come and find out about what is being discussed.
Edward Snowden might already guess who knows everything about the negotiations. But not everybody has as many antennas as the NSA.
Anyway, some people without antennas have actually gone to Karel De Gucht and asked.
They received this:
Why all this secrecy? De Gucht says making public more information could have a "negative impact on the position of industry."
By "position" the Commissioner probably means "profit".
Karel De Gucht cares a lot about the "position" of industry. So much that he wants to do them an even bigger favour.
The favour is called "Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement " (or "ISDS", for the experts). Multinationals and industry lobbyists have exploited this mechanism to attack national laws they don't like. (Experts may remember the failed "MAI" deal and the Battle of Seattle.)
This is how it works: whenever a company doesn't like a law in a country and they lose profits because of it, they can sue the state which has passed the law. Then they can even ask the state to pay them the profits they think they missed.
But the case will not take place in a normal court in a given country. It will go to a panel of lawyers created by the free-trade agreement. These lawyers are people who are appointed from international lists of company lawyers and hardly anybody knows how that works.
But these panels already exist in some investment agreements. And in around two thirds of the cases they have decided in favour of industry or urged countries to accept out-of-court settlements.
That might be a problem for you, or for any other European.
Monsanto might not like that EU Member States can ban GMOs on their territory. US animal breeders might want to sell their cloned animals. And Exxon might start fracking for shale gas in the EU. (Admittedly, the Parliament has made this pretty easy already.)
Whatever will be agreed between the Commission and the USA will be confirmed by the Parliamentin the end. Will that save us? The Parliament has voted all kinds of trade deals in the past - with Morocco, Columbia - countries where trade can worsen the human rights situation. It even agreed on preferential treatment for products from Burma. We fear that when it comes to a vote on the EU-US free-trade agreement, they'll deputies will not hesitate to water down our rules - all for the sake of a small increase in trade. Which could open the door to cloned animals, GMOs, and fracking in the EU. All of those small things could add up to big changes in our everyday life!