#TTIP vote postponed: blow to G7 hopes of an early EU-US trade deal
This afternoon, we heard that the votes in the European Parliament due for Wednesday lunchtime on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) had been postponed. Various reasons for the postponement have been given, and there are different explanations of what the postponement means (we don’t even know when the European Parliament will get to vote.) A few people have declared that the postponement proves one or other conspiracy theories, and others have used it to score partisan political points: not surprising – professional politicians will insist on dragging politics into the Parliament’s activities!
There is as much confusion about what the European Parliament is being asked to do as about the delay in voting. When the Parliament’s International Trade Committee sent its report to the plenary session a fortnight ago, employers faked jubilation that they had scored a major victory in getting the Committee to ‘back’ TTIP. Some misguided campaigners glumly gave in and accepted the employers’ interpretation, even in one outrageous case accusing opponents of ISDS on the Committee of treachery – perfect examples of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, or at least seeing the glass half empty. It was very effective but misleading spin. In reality, the Committee – one of the most right-wing in the Parliament – had set down a series of red lines, a shopping list of tough demands on EU trade negotiators.
Today the full European Parliament stood on the brink of reinforcing and extending those demands, effectively demanding wholesale changes in the negotiating mandate – originally secret – that Trade Ministers in EU member states gave to the Commission when the TTIP negotiations started in 2013.
The ostensible reason for the delay is to reduce the number of amendments from the current 116 (on top of several procedural votes that would be bound to happen), but in practice it’s unlikely that many of them will be taken off the table. In practice, political leaders from the two main groups, the centre-right EPP and centre-left Socialists & Democrats, are seeking compromises on the big issue of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
In the USA, delays to trade deal mandates in Congress are considered a win for democracy, a reining in of the gung-ho neoliberals, and a sign that legislators are standing up for people against corporations. The same is true of the European Parliament – delaying the vote will only make public opposition to TTIP and ISDS clearer and more influential. And if the vote is delayed until September (as some think it might), that would deal a fatal blow to the hopes expressed by world leaders at last weekend’s G7 summit for TTIP negotiations to be all but over by the end of 2015.
Expressing disappointment at the delay in the vote, the European Parliamentary Labour Party decided earlier today – in line with the TUC’s call yesterday – to back Jude Kirton-Darling’s Amendment 27 which would explicitly reject ISDS in TTIP, and remove reference to unpalatable alternatives. And despite the delay, that’s still the key amendment on the table (although there are several other issues to be decided on.) In the UK, the Greens (including nationalists) and UKIP are also likely to vote for Amendment 27, and we’ve been receiving responses from Conservative MEPs indicating that they, too, oppose ISDS (although many would accept a weaker alternative.)
Indeed, it’s very difficult now to find MEPs willing to back ISDS outright, which is one reason why the controversy has moved on to Trade Commissioner Malmstrom’s ISDS-lite proposal. But we should be celebrating the extent of the opposition to ISDS itself. Eighteen months ago, unions and other civil society groups had to force the European Commission to consult about ISDS, and that consultation was initially only about what form of ISDS to propose. Now popular opposition to ISDS has been replicated among MEPs, and the smokescreen of a ‘diet-ISDS’ is being blown away.
Whenever the eventual vote on the Parliament’s resolution on TTIP is taken, we need to redouble our efforts to get MEPs – especially in the Conservative Party – to vote against ISDS, as well as for the exclusion of public services like health and education and a ‘positive list’ approach to protect those public services; no reduction in regulatory protections; and binding and enforceable workers’ rights. The TUC’s Going to Work e-action remains open, with over 25,000 emails sent so far.