02 January 2016

TTIP Update XL

There's a rumour going around that ISDS may be coming out of TTIP:

Incoming Commission president Jean Claude Juncker is said to have decided to remove the controversial investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) from TTIP, citing that it is “too late” to win on the issue, and to send a clear signal to EU citizens that he has “heard them" a new news report says

According to the Dutch journalist Caroline de Gruyter, writing for NRC Handelsblad, Trade Commissioner-elect Cecilia Malmström had threatened to resign over Juncker’s plans to exclude ISDS, but to date, this has not happened. The news sheds further light on the tug-of-war taking place within the Commission regarding investor rights in international trade agreements, as was demonstrated in Malmström's parliamentary hearing in September.

Well, that's certainly plausible, but I'd like to see this confirmed before I start rejoicing. And even if ISDS were taken out of TTIP, it's important to remember that the threat of corporations suing nations directly, over democratic developments that harm future corporate profits, will not have disappeared. That's because ISDS is most definitely still in the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, known as CETA. That means that any US company with ‘substantial business activities’ in Canada - that's all that the text of CETA requires - can sue the EU using the new agreement.

And just to make things a little harder, it was announced today that another major EU free trade agreement with ISDS has been concluded:

The European Union (EU) and Singapore have concluded the negotiations of the investment part of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA). This marks the successful conclusion of the negotiations of the entire EUSFTA, following the initialling of the other parts of the agreement in September 2013.

As that makes clear, it was precisely the chapter dealing with investment - and hence the highly-contronversial ISDS provisions - that was holding up the agreement with Singapore. We finally have that investment chapter (pdf). Two things are striking. First, that once again, any company that has "substantive business operations" in Singapore will be able to use the new agreement - known by the unlovely abbreviation "EUSFTA" - to sue European governments and the EU itself. The other thing that is noticeable is that zero notice has been taken of the 150,000 (mostly negative) submissions to the European Commission's consultation on ISDS.

This isn't the only example of the Commission showing its contempt for the European public and democracy. As I mentioned in a previous update, plans to organise a European Citizens' Initiative, a formal petition against both TTIP and CETA, were blocked by the European Commission, which flatly refused to allow people even this, largely symbolic, way of expressing their views on TTIP and CETA.

However, the organisers realised that they didn't actually need permission from Brussels to run this pan-European petition, and set up the site stop-ttip.org, where people were able to sign in a wide range of European languages. Even though this was only launched last week, it's been a stunning success: at the time of writing, over 637,000 signatures have been gathered (please do add your name if you haven't already.) That's two-thirds of the nominal million that would have been needed for the ECI, but the way things are going, I think the total will go well beyond that - a wonderful answer to the mean-spirited and cowardly actions of the European Commission.

Now, some will say that e-petitions really don't count, since it's so easy to gather names. There's some truth in that, except that people need to know about the e-petition before they can sign it, and so as minimum we can say that two-thirds of a million people now know enough about TTIP and CETA to dislike them. Moreover, the idea that the European public don't really care that deeply about these so-called trade agreements was given the lie by the astonishing "Decentralised Day of Action against TTIP, CETA and TISA", which gave rise to 450 events in 24 EU member states, involving many thousands of EU citizens. Lots of great pictures give some flavour of the depth of support.

However much the European Commission would like to ignore what the little people like you and me think, many among the European public clearly have no intention of meekly accepting what the Commission has stitched up in secrecy behind closed doors. Their anger is not least because of an insulting logic at play here: that you have no right to criticise what's being negotiated until you've seen the final text, because it's not yet finished; but then to be told, once the text is finalised, that you have no right to change anything, because it's finished (as with CETA.) They call that democracy?

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