"We have serious concerns, especially because of the environmental standards and the special right to sue of corporations," said Greenpeace spokesman Florian Schweitzer.
"The Trojan Horse drawn by lobbyists should symbolize the dangers that entails in this Agreement and in particular the lawsuit capabilities of corporations," said Schweitzer, shortly before the midnight ride protest march in front of the headquarters of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ).
"Outwardly, the agreements are about investment protection, but hidden inside are special rules over the right to sue that can cause environmental legislation to be annulled in the future", said the Greenpeace activist.
The 1.5-ton wooden horse was symbolically pulled by lobbyists dressed in black suits.
"The lobbyists sit at the negotiating table, while the civil society and the population are excluded," Schweitzer criticized the non-transparent negotiations. There are important EU standards – especially in the areas of food safety and the environment – which are at risk of subsequently being lowered, he said.
With Friday's action, the group wanted to highlight the proposed new laws governing the right for corporations to sue governments, the so-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).
This new mechanism will mean that EU or national environmental laws can be placed in jeopardy if they conflict with the ability of businesses to make profits, and the ISDS provides a mechanism for global companies to sue governments to get those laws weakened or even repealed.
Furthermore, the environmental activists pointed out studies have suggested that the benefits of TTIP would offer only a year of economic growth of 0.05 percent. "Other studies even say that jobs will be lost."
Greenpeace is not opposed in principle to a new trade agreement between the EU and the US or Canada, as long as it ensures that environmental and consumer protection standards are not lowered, and that negotiations are fully transparent.
Austria's Minister of Agriculture Andrä Rupprechter shares these concerns
, saying that Europe's higher standards in food manufacturing would have to be accepted – otherwise the agreement was likely to fail.
"The ISDS is a massive Trojan Horse
," says MEP Yannick Jadot, the Greens' trade spokesperson in the European Parliament, "which can used by multinational corporations to whittle away EU standards and regulations across a range of policies".
George Monbiot of the Guardian newspaper has described the ISDS as a "full-frontal assault on democracy".
"These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret."
"The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts."