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10 June 2015
Accusations fly as EPP & S&D exchange fire over TTIP-vote postponement, but both are to blame.
The failure of the European Parliament to bring a TTIP resolution to the floor this morning has engulfed Europe’s political establishment in a war of words. The centre-left and centre right groups, that together make up the huge majority known to many of us as the “grand coalition”, is in a panic.
Already the casualties are piling up; on the Socialist & Democratic (S&D) side, British Labour MEP David Martin is said to have submitted a letter of resignation as coordinator of the International Trade Committee (INTA) for his group, over the ISDS debacle. His colleague Jude Kirton-Darling has had to defend her position to every newspaper that would listen. And INTA chairman Bernd Lange has spun himself into such a web of mistruths, that we see no clear path for his escape.
The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) are just as muddled, their pointing fingers firmly targeting the S&D, unwilling to shoulder any of the blame for what they themselves have caused.
How did we get to this mess? The heart of this problem lies in the reluctance of both groups to admit the obvious; ISDS is politically toxic and morally abhorrent, in whatever shape and whatever size. While the pro-big business EPP group have been dragged kicking and screaming to admit its flaws, the S&D have taken an even stranger step- instead of rejecting it entirely, they have tried to save it from itself. Meager enhancement ideas, such as better transparency, an appellate mechanism, a public list of arbitrators, has done nothing to sway the public from what they know to be true: ISDS is unreformable, and the writing is on the wall.
Spinning the pro-ISDS amendment into an anti-ISDS amendment
Of course, in the flurry of press releases, some grand claims have been made. It was to my shock that the S&D claimed a victory over ISDS in TTIP and for the protection of the environment in this press release after the INTA vote on 28 May, when in reality they did the exact opposite! In the middle of the night before the INTA vote, in a last ditch emergency meeting with the EPP, they waved through an amendment that specifically excluded any reference to opposing ISDS. Then they gutted the many amendments protecting the environment, which came from the ENVI committee, calling them “inadmissible” and denying them even a vote.
Bernd Lange thought that the only way to get the TTIP resolution out of the INTA committee and to the plenary was to strike a deal with the EPP, which would mean sacrificing in the short term any reference opposing ISDS, despite his public statements to the contrary. This was a huge comedown from his principled stance on the issue, and a fatal mistake in his game plan. The public unleashed their vitriol. We are now at impasse on ISDS. Yet they celebrated it as a success.
The chairman’s press conference today was when the fiction became truly hilarious. Lange claimed that the language coming out of the INTA committee was indeed a “crystal clear” rejection of ISDS. He said that only afterwards “when we got some letters from BusinessEurope” that showed our position “was not clear in that message” did he decide to reintroduce an explicit anti-ISDS amendment (115) in order to clarify the stance so there is “no room for interpretation”.
Watch a recording of the full press conference here.
The EPP may not have believed their ears hearing Lange speak like this. For them, the introduction of anti-ISDS amendment 115 by Lange and David Martin in the name of the S&D Group was treason. But treason for what? Here comes in the EPP web of mistruths: treason for what EPP now sells as the "compromise on ISDS found between S&D and EPP in the INTA Committee". Well, every Strasbourg child would know better. The emperor never had clothes on: there never was a compromise on ISDS.
Now as public pressure has mounted since the INTA vote, the S&D have found it increasingly impossible to defend their "enhanced" ISDS option, an invention which, coupled with Commissioner Malmstrom's proposals, has no basis for a genuine omission of ISDS. The obsession over defending it has led us into this crisis.
Lange was quick to blame the Greens too, though we would’ve supported any amendment tabled by Lange that explicitly opposed ISDS. That was never forthcoming.
Politicians aside, the real casualties of this fight are European citizens, who are being sold a number of increasingly incredible storylines to explain the chaos of the last 24 hours. I don’t think they’ll buy it. The tens of thousands of emails and phone calls that have flooded MEPs offices since last week is evidence of that. More than that, the pressure is working.
What the S&D and the EPP now need is a total rethink of how they are handling the ISDS threat. While the Greens have many other concerns about TTIP, we can support them in finally ridding this EU-US deal, and deals in the future, of this detestable, anti-democratic mechanism.