EU Parliament shows its teeth in view of 2014 elections

Debate: "Can a future Free Trade Agreement create a proper EU-US energy dialogue?" (European Parliament photographic library, 15/05/2013).

Debate: “Can a future Free Trade Agreement create a proper EU-US energy dialogue?” (European Parliament photographic library, 15/05/2013).

One year ahead of the European Parliament elections and the legislators are showing to the Commission and the Council their teeth, which have been sharpened by the Treaty of Lisbon. Practically nothing can be done in the European Union without the consent of the Parliament. A trilateral agreement (Parliament, Council and Commission) is needed on everything.

Under this light the Parliament warned the Commission and the Council that while negotiating the new ground breaking free trade and investment agreement with the US, they must keep in mind that the Parliament’s consent will not be given or denied in a wholesale package, but is needed on every important stage. This strict attitude by legislators is expected to cover all open issues and will create a new environment in the workings of the Union over the next months.

Parliament ready to fight

Currently the European deputies have opened a number of battlefronts with the other two main EU institutions. The most important of them, from an esoteric point of view, is the EU budgets for the new Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, along with the coverage of the unpaid bills of 2012 and the fiscal gaps expected to be left open this year. The Parliament in a rare unanimity has rejected the €960 billion ceiling, proposed by the Council, for EU budget spending over the next seven years.

Another important point of friction between the Parliament on the one side and the Commission and the Council on the other is related to the new economic governance framework (European Monetary Union). This legislation covers the 27 EU member state budgets and more particularly the 17 Eurozone countries’ government spending. The basic new rule for the euro area nations is that their government accounts, before being approved by national Parliaments, must first secure the green light from the Commission. Only yesterday legislators turned upside-down a Commission proposal for the creation of ‘a social dimension’ in the European Monetary Union (economic governance).

Now it’s the turn of this historic free trade and investment agreement with the US, that the EU Parliament has decided to keep under close monitoring. A relevant press release issued by legislators goes like that, ”Parliament must be kept on board in talks with the US on what could become the world’s largest free trade area”. The warning came in the form of a resolution voted on Thursday.

Yes to EU-US deal but…

The MEPs in their resolution strongly favoured starting the talks, but also stated their expectations, e.g. as regards opening up access to the US procurement market and safeguarding the EU’s cultural and audiovisual services market. This text is Parliament’s input to the EU negotiating mandate. “An ambitious and comprehensive agreement would give a badly needed, low-cost boost to our economies”, said the House rapporteur Vital Moreira (S&D, PT), before the vote on Parliament’s input to the negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
“This resolution should now be duly taken into account by the Council and the Commission, as Parliament will only give its final consent if we have a positive outcome for our businesses, workers and citizens”, he added. Moreira is absolutely right in saying that because this agreement is expected to affect almost every one of the 500 million EU citizens and the tens of millions of small and big businesses.

The EU-US free trade and investment agreement is to create the largest ever uniform business space on the surface of the globe. There are sectors however like the agri-food (GMOs and cloning), culture (intellectual property rights), data protection, and citizens’ rights which are expected to create serious problems in the bilateral negotiations. On top of that the MEPs expect the deal to open up new opportunities for EU firms, especially small and medium-sized ones.

For example, they expect the European Commission to seek full access for EU firms to US public procurement markets, and the removal of current US restrictions on EU suppliers of maritime and air transport services and particularly foreign ownership of airlines, and financial service providers.

In view of the dead ends which will surely plague those negotiations, there is the risk that the most controversial sectors may be left out of the scope of the agreement. This will be the worst possible solution, because this is probably what the other side is looking for. To avoid this dreadful prospect legislators stressed that the “Parliament has teeth and can bite”. Besides giving the green light to start talks (460 votes in favour, 105 against and 28 abstentions), the MEPs remind negotiators of their duty to keep Parliament “immediately and fully informed” at all stages of the talks.

Current impact assessments by the Parliament suggest that the free trade agreement with the US could boost the GDP of the EU by 0.5%, which would be translated into extra €545 a year for each family of four in the EU. The EU Council of Ministers plans to authorize the opening of negotiations and approve negotiating directives in June. Talks could then begin in July and the Commission hopes to conclude them by the end of 2014.

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