Does the European Commission understand NO?

Despite an overwhelming rejection from the public, the European Commission wants to plough ahead with the EU/US Trade Deal.

Nick Dearden
15 January 2015

Even a tyrant might baulk at implementing a policy which 97% of people oppose. But the European Commission is moving forward with the US-EU trade deal (known as TTIP), despite getting just that result from its largest consultation in history. Nonetheless, corporate plans for this huge trade deal have been badly damaged.

Last year, in response public criticism, the Commission issued a consultation on so-called ‘investor protection’. That’s the bit of trade deals which gives corporations the right to sue governments for implementing policies that damage their profits. So for Investor protection read corporate privilege.

Not surprisingly it’s hugely unpopular. Over 97% all of the 150,000 respondents to the Commission’s consultation – that’s more than 100 times that of any previous trade consultation – rejected investor protection outright.

Unfortunately, the Commission insists that they were answering a question that hadn’t been asked. At no point in the whole dense, legalistic consultation document were participants given an option to say ‘we don’t want this’. Rather they were asked questions almost impossible to understand by anyone who isn’t a trade lawyer. When campaign groups created an easy-to-follow online response action, they were accused of “hijacking” the process.

On Tuesday, the Commission released its findings in full. They show that an enormous number of EU citizens responded to the consultation, more than any consultation in history, as well as nearly 450 businesses, campaign organisations, think tanks and trade unions.

The analysis shows that this really is a battle between big business and the rest of us. The exclusion of public services is “strongly opposed by a significant number of business associations who want to see exceptions and limitations brought down to a minimum.”

Unsurprisingly, corporate giants like Chevron, Suez and Repsol, which have sued countries under similar investor protection, are fully supportive of those systems. indeed some reject any weakening of a system which has allowed tobacco giant Philip Morris to sue Uruguay for putting health warnings on cigarette packets.

But even across the business world, there is no consensus. “ [S]mall companies are more critical”, not surprising given small business is unlikely to have access to this world of corporate privilege.

The country generating most response to the EU (52,000 participants) is Britain. This is good, because the British government is pushing investor protection more than any other. Last year they intervened to make sure the Commission kept its nerve. The next opportunity to put the British government on the spot is today, when a backbench debate in Westminster will put TTIP on the parliamentary agenda for the first time in a year.

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström admitted on Tuesday that the “consultation clearly shows that there is a huge scepticism against the ISDS [investor protection] instrument”, but she will continue to try to work out a compromise nonetheless. This is deeply worrying because the last compromise made in the Canada-EU treaty (CETA) actually risks giving corporations more power.

The deal has been welcomed by veteran investment arbitrator Todd Weiler: “I love it, the new Canadian-EU treaty…we used to have to argue about all of those [foreign investor rights]…And now we have this great list. I just love it when they try to explain things.”

The Commission now embarks on further ‘consultation’. But they have been dealt a serious blow by campaigners from across Europe, who now need to get even more active.

The European Parliament will adopt a position on TTIP in May. Early signs are that this will be a real showdown and vitally important to whether or not TTIP passes into law.

German Social Democrat Bernd Lange from the trade committee, one of the most important parliamentarians on TTIP, wrote yesterday that everything important “can be attained in TTIP without the inclusion of ISDS provisions”.

The Environment Committee has been even more critical, worrying “that the TTIP and other mega trade deals are likely to reshape global trade rules and set new standards, while also being discriminatory,… risking sidelining important issues for developing countries such as food security, agricultural subsidies and climate change mitigation”

2015 is the make or break year for TTIP, and the coming months are vitally important. To have any hope of stopping this corporate juggernaut, we need to win critical votes in the EU parliament on TTIP and CETA.

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