The long and much discussed Transatlantic Trade an Investment Partnership question in Europe might have reached a new phase, and all the stagnation of the past months seems now to make way for some evolutions.
The European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade passed a key resolution last Thursday, backing the EU-US free trade agreement. Although it still needs to be approved by the Parliament as a whole, the package of recommendation, which passed by 28-13 vote with no abstentions last week, has an enormous importance for the whole TTIP matter. The resolution has given de facto a green light to the European Commission on TTIP, conceding that the controversial investor state dispute settlement, the ISDS, could remain as part of the deal.
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström seemed satisfied after the vote, and soon declared that she sees ISDS as a “permanent solution” for resolving disputes between investors and states, where potential cases are treated in a transparent manner by publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings”.
The Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC), advocacy group of more than 70 multinational corporations, immediately welcomed the approval of the report by the International Trade Committeee (INTA). The TABC, whose CEO and Director General Mr. Tim Bennett has been exclusively interviewed by the European Sting during European Business Summit 2014, has also said via official press release that they are convinced that the “series of recommendations […] will likely be voted on by the entire Parliament” next June 10.
The Members of Parliament insisted in making sure that TTIP would not lower European standards and pushed negotiators to keep that as a priority, but they have basically found a way to keep the ISDS clause in, which the Americans seek. That was only made possible by a deal between the two major parties of the Parliament, European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats, reached a compromise on Wednesday, when late at night a rumour that the vote on recommendations for EU-US negotiations seemed likely to pass filtered.
No doubt that we are in front of a “political masterpiece”, a hand-shake which wiped out years of (comprehensible) discords between the two main groups the Parliament. In April almost 50 per cent of the Parliament’s committees rejected the arbitration system, with only EPP being in favour. Actually German Social Democrat and Committee chairman Bernd Lange has been largely criticised after the vote for not having expressively banned the inclusion of the ISDS mechanism in the first draft of the package, as he reportedly seemed to have promised before. Mr Lange, previously said for instance that an ISDS mechanism is not necessary “given the US and Europe’s legal systems”. Nevertheless, he claimed that moving towards Commissioner Malmström’s idea was a “step in the right direction”.
Monique Goyens, director-general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said that “deplorably” the MEPs “took a very ambiguous stance” on ISDS. “We have yet to see any facts justifying its inclusion in an EU-US trade deal,” she said. The final text was also criticised by left-wing GUE MEP Helmut Scholz, who said the resolution had “ignored” concerns expressed about ISDS and had been left “open and vague”.
It’s important to specify again that the measure serves only as an advice to the European Commission and does not represent a final solution or decision over the gigantic EU-US trade agreement. However, May 29th vote has been closely watched as a key indicator of whether the European Union will eventually sign up to TTIP after many months of wide protests across the bloc and many cold signs of apathy by key member states as Germany.
Just a few days before the vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel openly expressed support towards TTIP saying in an interview last Saturday that she hopes it will be finalised by 2017. “It’s in the interest of our jobs and our prosperity that we encourage trade with the United States and not give it up to competitors from other regions,” Merkel told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung referring to Asia. Opposition to the mammoth EU-US trade agreement is unusually strong in Germany, and the Chancellor saw how this very moment is crucial – as last Thursday’s vote was – in the development of the whole question.
The recommendations from the Parliament to the Commission negotiators, which have already convened together for 9 rounds of talks so far, will be submitted to a vote in the next plenary session in Strasbourg next June 10.
What is certain though is that last Thursday’s vote at the Parliament could boost TTIP over the longer term, and represents with no doubt a game-changer in the whole, delicate TTIP question in Europe.