This week could have become a historic one for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The Meeting of the International Trade Committee taking place yesterday and today, just a few weeks after the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade passed a key resolution that was de facto giving the green light to the trade agreement.
Last week, the much awaited key vote on TTIP was postponed by the European Parliament last minute. “In view of the more than 200 amendments and requests for separate vote have been tabled to the Lange Report on TTIP, the President [Schulz] has decided, in accordance with Rule 175* and after consulting the Chair of the Committee on International Trade (INTA), to ask the committee to meet to consider the amendments and requests tabled to the plenary. Therefore, the plenary vote on the report, scheduled for tomorrow noon, Wednesday June 10, will not take place”.
Something to think about
With these words the Parliament officially pushed the TTIP further away. Last Wednesday early morning, MEPs voted in favour of postponing the plenary debate on TTIP (183 yes, 181 no, 37 abstentions). Although it is not essential to have a formal Parliamentary resolution backing the European Commission in the talks at this stage, a formal positive vote was considered as extremely important for the project’s success. But the vote didn’t even take place. And this is a very important matter to analyze in order to get some understanding of what will come out of this week’s anticipated INTA meeting.
Let’s start with the words of the European Parliament president, Martin Schulz. He said last Tuesday he had been simply forced to postpone the planned resolution on the trade pact because of the way too many amendments were tabled by lawmakers, and he underlined this concept with the following words: “I decided to postpone the vote on the TTIP resolution to give more time to the International Trade Committee to further reflect on the outstanding issues and to reduce as much as possible the large number of amendments tabled”.
A partial explanation?
Despite last Wednesday’s statement, many believe that he only decided to cancel the vote amidst fears that a majority of MEPs might reject the bill. Again, the result would not have been binding, but a “no”, and so a red light, would have represented an unprecedented letdown for the European Commission.
President Schulz also tried to be more direct, and went on: “The European Parliament needs to contribute with a clear and unequivocal position”.. “What we should have is a strong text by the European Parliament and what we should avoid is that Parliament adopts a resolution which is neither here or there, or, even worse, is not able to adopt a resolution”, he added later last Wednesday.
However, the differences between the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats, which actually seemed to be a bit less sharp recently, as we reported a few weeks ago, clearly played a big role in this TTIP-wreck.
The issue of arbitration and especially the alleged internal divisions among the socialist group might have led to the removal of the report, and in this way the official justification of the European Parliament’s President might give only a partial explanation.
Social Democratic divisions
Gianni Pittella, leader of the parliament’s socialist MEPs, tried to cool down the temperature in his party, which is seen to have suffered deep divisions over TTIP’s contentious investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. “The S&D is neither in favour nor opposed to having the debate today”, he said. “The key issue is that given the lack of agreement on the resolution, there must be more discussion,” underlined the President of the European Socialists.
Overall, the feelings inside the Parliament last week were mixed, as they currently are also this week, at the morrow of the INTA meeting. Many MEPs have voiced their anger after President Schulz’s decision, last week, like Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Liberal MEP, who argued that “Martin Schulz single handedly decided to postpone the vote”, adding that the move had “created chaos”, as reported by Euronews.
On the other hand Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament, said that “the rules are clear”. “If there are too many amendments and the plenary can’t deal with them, then he has the right to send this back. So he earned our support so that we can discuss that properly in the Parliament,” he said last Wednesday.
All in all, politically, the postponed vote is an excuse for members of the two largest political groups, the S&D and the EPP, who are deeply divided over many issues like the ISDS clause, the heart of the discord inside the European Parliament, to buy some time. For sure, June 9-10 failure represents a big step forward for TTIP opponents.
The transatlantic trade agreement is now back in the agenda of the International Trade committee, which is called to decide whether amendments and split vote requests should go for plenary vote.
The Committee meeting ends today, 16 June, and its outcomes are set to play a major role for future TTIP evolutions in the Old Continent.
*Rule 175 makes possible to refer a report back to the Committee when there are more than 50 amendments and requests tabled for split or separate votes.