Over the past year, more than 2 million European citizens have spoken out against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and European Union. It is one of the most successful trans-European campaigns to date.
TTIP is high on the agendas of European citizens. Last year 150,000 people responded to a European Commission consultation. Responses were by and large highly critical of the treaty. Notably, 97% of respondents opposed ISDS, the controversial proposal for an ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ system which grants privileged powers to foreign corporations.
Europeans are surely right to be concerned about the speed with which the treaty is being negotiated, the risk of corporate lobbyists dominating the negotiations and the secrecy of ISDS, which risks taking arbitration with significant consequences for public policy out of public view and into secret courts.
Public concern has led to some signs of a policy shift inside the European Commission, which is negotiating the treaty on behalf of member states. Jean-Claude Juncker, whilst campaigning to be elected as President of the Commission, remarked that he thought ISDS should not be part of the the trade agreements. Cecilia Malmström, the trade Commissioner, has laid out plans for creating a public court for trade disputes, updating an ISDS system she argues is already in place with hundreds of agreements by member states with third countries made over the last decades. Public pressure and debate must be kept up to keep pushing negotiators towards acting in the general interest
The European Parliament will ultimately be in a position to agree to or to block TTIP. It therefore has a huge responsibility for working towards a good agreement in the interests of citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the Parliamentary committees have made proposals on how to safeguard various public health, safety and environmental standards, and have been critical of the ISDS procedures. News of the parliament’s International Trade Committee vote in favour of a pro-ISDS report, therefore, was met with both shock and consternation.
Civil society across Europe has labelled May 28 a “gloomy day for democracy” and accused MEPs of “betraying the European people”. Last month, reports came out in the international press of US senators changing their minds and voting in favour of fast-track approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership after receiving substantial donations from corporations.
On June 10, the European Parliament will have to vote in plenary session whether to approve, reject or amend the report of its Trade Committee. This is an important opportunity for the parliament to show whether it stands by citizens or by corporations. The previous parliament asserted its authority by rejecting the SWIFT agreements and the ACTA agreements, responding to widespread public concern. With TTIP the stakes are even higher.