By Judith Kirton Darling Labour MEP
We have just had an important vote on TTIP in the trade committee of the European Parliament. I am writing this post to explain what was voted on , and how this fits in the overall TTIP negotiations.
Trade deals in the EU are negotiated by the European Commission, on the basis of a detailed mandate adopted by the Prime Ministers of all the 28 EU countries. The European Parliament is not part of the process to adopt the mandate, and we can’t stop the negotiations either. However, the European Parliament recently gained the power to veto any trade deal. This is a blunt power, as MEPs can only say yes or no. This means we cannot amend any trade agreement.
TTIP is currently being negotiated. Talks started in 2013, and progress has been extremely slow. No one expects the negotiations to be concluded anytime soon. In fact, TTIP may very well not be finalised before the end of the current European Parliament in 2019.
Rather than sit and wait for the end of the negotiations, the Socialist group in the European Parliament and other progressive political groups have consistently pushed for the current European Parliament to adopt a resolution to set out in advance our conditions for supporting any deal with the US. This way, we can influence the negotiations: it would be very unwise for the Commission not to take into account what Parliament has to say about TTIP, considering that MEPs will have the final say.
But in order to get this resolution, we need the numbers. Since we don’t command a majority on our own, or even together with the Greens and the radical Left, this means agreeing common demands with the conservatives and/or liberals.
In this context, this week, we made a great first step forward. In the trade committee we’ve adopted a resolution that set out our positions on a wide array of issues. It is just a first step: texts adopted in committee (meaning, by 41 MEPs) must then be voted by the plenary of the European Parliament (all 750 MEPs). This second vote will take place on 10th June.
One such position contained in this resolution calls for a broad carveout of all public services. Here is the full text of what was adopted: “to build on the joint statement reflecting the negotiatorsâ€™ clear commitment to exclude current and future Services of General Interest as well as Services of General Economic Interest from the scope of application of TTIP, (including but not limited to water, health, social services, social security systems and education), to ensure that national and local authorities retain the full rightÂ to introduce, adopt, maintain or repeal any measures with regards to the commissioning, organisation, funding and provision of public services as provided in the Treaties as well asÂ in the EU’s negotiating mandateÂ ; this exclusion should apply irrespective of how the services are provided and funded;”
This is largely based on recommendations we’ve received from public services users, providers and employees. With this clause we are sending a clear message to the Commission that we won’t accept anything that could impact the NHS and other public services in TTIP. This was already the position of the Labour Party and European Socialists. It is now the position of the trade committee, and hopefully it will become the position of the whole European Parliament on 10 June.
Anyone that has heard David Cameron call our concerns for the NHS “nonsense” last November can appreciate that this is a very significant victory.
We have also managed to secure strong provisions to defend binding labour safeguards in the agreement, so as to prevent social dumping. We reached a great outcome on standards too. The text we agreed on the infamous “regulatory cooperation”, which some multinationals and Tory MEPs view as a way to bypass Parliament in order to slash our standards, clearly rejects any kind of undemocratic power grab.
On private tribunals – known as ISDS or Investor State Dispute Settlement – the outcome reached in the trade committee is a clear step forward even though it is not ideal. I had tabled an unambiguous amendment against ISDS, for which I had gathered support of 66 Socialist MEPs.
This amendment was incorporated in a compromise text, together with all other amendments on the topic. The compromise adopted reads as follow: “to ensure the applicability of international agreements, to bring an end to the unequal treatment of European investors in the US on account of existing agreements of Member States; to ensure that foreign investors are treated in a non-discriminatory fashion and have a fair opportunity to seek and achieve redress of grievances while benefiting from no greaterÂ Â rights than domestic investors:
- to build on the concept paper recently presented by Commissioner MalmstrÃ¶m to INTA Committee on May 7 as a basis for negotiations on an effective investment protection clause, as it provides very welcome proposals for reform and improvementÂ
- taking into account the EU’s and the US’ developed legal systems, to trustÂ the courts of the EU and of the Member States and of the United States to provide effective legal protection based on the principle of democratic legitimacy, efficiently and in a cost-effectiveÂ manner;
- to propose a permanent solution 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 judgesÂ in public hearings and which includes an appellate mechanism, where consistency of judicial decisions is ensured and the jurisdiction of courts of the EU and of the Member States is respected
- in the medium term, a public International Investment Court could be the most appropriate means to address investment disputes”
I have made my position on ISDS clear time and again. I believe that while we may include investment protection rules in trade deals, such as TTIP, I don’t believe that these rules should be enforced through special private tribunals in which multinationals can secretly sue governments. I have defended the use of national courts in TTIP, and I’m sympathetic to the idea of creating an international tribunal in the medium or long run so that all countries would have access to the same system, as long as this tribunal is not based on arbitral justice. Therefore, I have made it very clear that I will vote against TTIP in the end if it contains ISDS.
Nothing in the compromise above goes against my position on TTIP. In fact, it’s very much a step in the right direction as it does not mention ISDS, while it says that we should trust national courts in TTIP. To me this means no ISDS in TTIP.
This is not the end of our fight. On 10th June, the text we adopted this week in committee will be put to the vote in a plenary session of the European Parliament. We will have the possibility to table amendments again, and I will continue to press for a strong position from the Parliament that says explicitly “no ISDS in TTIP”. Labour MEPs will of course support such a move, but in order to win this vote, we’ll need to get some Tory, UKIP and Lib-Dem MEPs to join us – and you can make a difference in helping us to convince them.