Can Europe Make It?

How the European Commission is trying to smother debate on TTIP

The debate on TTIP and CETA is getting tougher. The Commission is willing to do anything and everything to get these agreements passed. The last act was the ridiculous decision not to register the ECI. 

Michael Efler
29 September 2014
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Anti-TTIP protest in Berlin. Demotix/Bjorn Kietzmann. All rights reserved.

Stop TTIP - an alliance counting over 250 organisations from across Europe - has tried to use the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to repeal the negotiating mandate for TTIP and not to conclude CETA – the trade talks being held in secret with the USA and Canada, respectively. The ECI was established with the Lisbon Treaty and was regarded as a major improvement of the “democratic life of the European Union”.

Long before requesting registration of the ECI, our alliance asked for a legal pre-check of our petition text. A public servant of the Commission said that it would be no problem to get an answer. But even after phoning and e-mailing again and again, they failed to deliver an answer. That´s why we decided to submit our request on 15 July.

Then the Commission needed another two months to refuse the registration in a short letter based on two surprising arguments: The first is that the Commission sees the mandate for an international agreement only as a preparatory act with no legal effect on citizens, and so could not be influenced by an ECI. This interpretation has no basis in the European Treaties. An ECI could request a legal act. There is no need to request a legal act with direct effect on citizens.

The second is even more disturbing. The Commission distinguishes between two forms of ECIs directed at the conclusion of an international agreement of the EU. The first one is request positively the conclusion of an agreement. This is admissible according to the Commission. But when an ECI – as in our case – wants to say No to the conclusion of an agreement it is not admissible because it produces no legal effect on citizens. This formalistic approach is more than questionable from a legal point of view.

Politically, the argument of the Commission has a simple message: international trade agreements should be negotiated without public intervention. This is absolutely unacceptable that, after secret negotiations over which we have no influence, the European Parliament and the public are presented with a fait accompli.

The Commissions´ decision is very much in line with similar acts in the last months. For example, look at the so-called consultation on investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) in TTIP. The soon-retiring trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht – who denounces some TTIP critics as liars – regarded the coordinated contributions of 150,000 people to the consultation as an “attack” on the system. And shortly after the deadline of the consultation, he proudly declared the CETA negotiations as finalized.

The draft text has a chapter on ISDS almost identical to that of the consultation on ISDS in TTIP. So the Commissions´ maxim seems to be: you can say want you want but it doesn´t change anything. The Commission also wants to avoid the ratification of CETA and TTIP in the national parliaments. It regards the treaties as “EU-only”-agreements, only to be ratified in the European Parliament and concluded by the Council.

So, how will we proceed with the ECI campaign? We will not be ending our protest just because the European Commission wants to gain time with an unfounded and politically motivated rejection. Democracy arises through social intervention and participation in the political process; it is not something to be granted or denied by Brussels. That is why in early October, we will be launching a self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative.

The European Commission is trying to ignore us; we will ignore the European Commission. And of course we´ll challenge the Commissions´ decision at the European Court of Justice.

See more from our TTIP debate here

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