The European Parliament’s resolution on TTIP – squaring the circle?

By Theresa

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) finally debated the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the US and the EU from 7 to 8 July 2015. This post is based on my reading of the resolution text, official email reactions from German social-democrats and reactions from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

TTIP has been a hot potato in the EP. The official debate of the EP’s stance on the negotiations was scheduled for June, but postponed – at less than 24 hours notice according to one German MEP. Arguably, because the EP’s President Martin Schulz feared that no pro-TTIP vote could have been secured. Finally, at the beginning of July the discussion and the drafting of an EP resolution took place. The resolution is legally non-binding. It contains some recommendations to the European Commission (EC). The text is also sent – for information only – to the EU Council, to the EU Member State (MS) governments and parliaments as well as to US Congress and Administration (point 3 Resolution).

What does the resolution say?

The text asks the EC very kindly to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. For cynics, it may read like a wish list, only MEPs got the addressee wrong: though EU MS have given the EC mandate to negotiate almost everything, they have not put it in charge to replace Santa Claus.

So what is it that Santa Claus is asked to provide? The 17 page document contains some recommendations with which I strongly agree. Inter alia, the EC is asked to

  • “recognise that, where the EU and the US have very different rules, there will be no agreement, and therefore not to negotiate on these issues“, the topics including public healthcare (of there is next to zero in the US), using hormones in bovines (of which there is plenty in the US) and Genetically Modified Organisms (of which the US still has plenty more than the EU); in resolution point 2 (c) (iii).
  • do its homework and assess “the economic, employment, social, and environmental impact of TTIP, (…) by means of a thorough and objective ex-ante trade sustainability impact assessment”, a type of assessment which the EC already made law in all EU MS; in resolution point 2 (d) (vi).
  • come up with “reaching arrangements with the US side to improve transparency” in other words: giving MEPs access to the negotiation documents, and allowing “constructive discussions” with EU citizens, or – at least – that both the EC and the US negotiators must “justify any refusal” of publishing negotiation materials; in point 2 (e) (ii).

Calling these and other recommendations a Christmas wish list stems from the fact that the TTIP negotiations started in 2013 – and in full disregard of transparency, participation and public opinion. The EC received its mandate from EU MS at a point in time where it was already abundantly clear: negotiating the privatization of public utilities in secret and without any evidence of benefits to the great majority of citizens would not find public support. (Haven’t found ‘privatisation’ anywhere in the TTIP leaks? Wait for our upcoming post explaining the content of TTIP!). Without delving deep into conspiracy theories, this absence of convincing arguments may be the reason for confidential negotiations in the first place. For real secrecy, check out TiSA.

The most important part of the resolution is very short. It regards the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. If you have never heard about ISDS, check out this crisp explanation  by a fellow blogger. It clarifies why ISDS is to democracies like summer to a snowman: a melt-down. Consequently, it is worth quoting the MEPs’ paragraph on ISDS. They ask the EC

“to replace the ISDS system with a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states which is subject to democratic principles and scrutiny, where potential cases are treated in a transparent manner by publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings and which includes an appellate mechanism, where consistency of judicial decisions is ensured, the jurisdiction of courts of the EU and of the Member States is respected, and where private interests cannot undermine public policy objectives” (point 2 (d) (xv)).

MEPs seem to say everything except: there is already a system fitting to the description in both the US and the EU. It is called ‘judiciary’ by some and ‘rule of law’ by others. A benign interpretation may claim that this overly long sentence only allows for one option: abandoning the whole idea of the ISDS and erase it from the TTIP text. Speaking strictly by the letter, this is exactly what the many words avoid saying. Asking to replace the idea by a new system excludes the option that there is already a system, and that the idea of ISDS is per se anti-democratic. Instead, the paragraph may be understood as providing comfortable wiggle room for negotiators to come up with a new cloth under which to smuggle ISDS into TTIP negotiations. This pessimistic interpretation is shared by at least one German social-democrat MEP and several NGOs for instance No 2 ISDS, TTIP Unfairhandelbar, an alliance of German NGOs against TTIP,and War on Want.

Okay, but what does the resolution really say?

At the most basic level, MEPs have stated that the EC is negotiating away a standard of living which many EU citizens want to keep – without knowledge of the citizens affected, their elected representatives in parliaments and the EP. Simultaneously, the MEPs ask the same entity to stop indulging in this behaviour and convince its US counter-parts to join in implementing transparency and public opinion. That would be a radical change of position! Thereby, the EP reminds me of a child who – despite being repeatedly disappointed by Santa Claus in the last years – still sends her wishes to the North Pole. This is not meant to degrade the EP and to (overly) shame the EC.

After all, what other options does a bureaucratic institution have than to use the available venues for communication? Politics involves compromises. Having 709 individuals negotiating one single document could have led to worse than this explicit criticism of the Status quo and hopeful call for change. Though, there is frustration among MEPs that those amendments to the text which were more critical of ISDS were simply pushed off the table instead of placed for voting. Side-note: I got to the number of 709 since there are 750 MEPs in total and 41 MEPs did not bother to show up for voting on the TTIP resolution (I make the blunt assumption they did not participate at all).

436 MEPs voted for this text as the official EP resolution on TTIP, 241 against it and 32 withheld their votes. The EP resolution does not bind the EC in its negotiations with the US, but clarifies the EP’s attitude towards TTIP. Almost 62 percent of citizens’ representatives in the EP gave green light to the EC for further negotiations with the US. That is the reason why many NGOs call the EP voting ‘pro-TTIP’.

The vote is also a sign how the EP may react to the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada which is pending translation. In the same line, we can take it as indicative on how the EP would vote should the negotiations on TTIP be finalised soon.

Governments and politicians like to blame ‘Brussels’ and ‘Strasbourg’ (the two places where the EP meets up). I caution against that: after all, the EC has received its mandate from EU MS. Looking at the official PR  of a major industry association in Germany, it does not seem too unlikely that they have discreetly nudged the German government to place the idea of negotiating TTIP in the EC’s lap. There are several ways to demand accountability from those who claim to represent our interests:

Do not allow responsibility for TTIP – and CETA & TiSA – to evaporate!

UK residents, check out how your MEPs voted and let them know how you feel about it here.  German and Austrian residents click here. If you have a similar platform in your country, please comment below or email it to us! Word of caution: the very black-and-white presentation of these voting lists may not fully present the stance a representative has taken on the different amendments. For this check out the detailed voting list for all MEPs.

Ending on an optimistic note

Civil society mobilisation against the TTIP has shown some tangible results – the public pressure on the MEPs has caused heated debates, many MEPs take a position against the ISDS and the EP is to officially call on the EC to modify the dispute settlement system. This is a huge progress in comparison to the CETA which includes the same system and where the EP did not demand changes. Since the resolution is also sent to the EU MS parliaments and the US Congress, it may encourage critics there to continue insisting despite – currently – being in the minority.

Whatever you think about the EP’s power to influence others – the ISDS is officially exempted from the topics which the US and the EC negotiate during the tenth negotiation round. This negotiation round takes place from 13 to 17 July (stay up to date here). According to the EC, it will negotiate with the US a variety of topics including: lowering tariffs, harmonisation of standards in manufacturing, agricultural market access, services and public procurement.

The TTIP appears to be about almost anything which exists in the EU and the US. In an attempt to shed some light on this huddle, my next post will provide an overview what it is that TTIP is supposed to regulate. Meanwhile a peek into artists’ work on the TTIP:

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