07 April 2015

Crucial “red lines” crossed: why I voted against the TTIP-opinion

Pascal Durand discusses the opinion of the Committee for Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO)

Greens/EFA Group, European Parliament

The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee has several core competences related to TTIP: it aims at ensuring the smooth functioning of the "real economy", particularly by promoting the interests of SMEs, regulating the freedom of movement and establishment of services providers while preserving public services, ensuring the highest levels of consumer protection and last but not least, regulating public procurement rules. Since a comprehensive transatlantic trade agreement would have far-reaching impacts on these areas, the negotiations leading to the (narrow) adoption of the IMCO opinion were animated, to say the least. Three main issues were particularly crucial for us as Greens, and constituted "red lines": public procurement, public services and ISDS.

Public procurement is one of the most important and sensitive chapters in the negotiations: the EU has significant offensive interests in this area, and thus aims for maximum opening-up of American markets. On the other hand, the US Federal States are trying to protect their "buy American" and pro-small-business rules. Most political groups insisted on having a strong wording on the mandatory liberalization of US public procurement markets. But this debate is missing the point of what is truly at stake. For us Greens, short supply circuits creating local jobs and preserving the environment must be fostered and, in line with new sustainability award criteria, procurement contracts must be allocated not just according to their price, but also according to their social, environmental and employment added value for society. In the end, we succeeded in including in the opinion a reference to the newly revised public procurement directives, particularly the sustainability award criteria ("MEAT - Most Economically Advantageous Tender) and SMEs access to procurement, which is an important achievement.

Public Services, by definition, are to a large extent exempted from classic competition rules as they serve key public interests without necessarily generating profit. Our stance in the negotiations was clear: a blanket exclusion of all public services, including social, health, education, water and sanitation services, from the TTIP is absolutely necessary. Public authorities should have the right, in line with the subsidiary principle, to organize, finance and protect public services. The negotiations should thus be based on a positive list of sectors to be liberalized, thereby safeguarding all sectors not specifically mentioned. Unfortunately, the majority of MEPs did not agree with our requests for an explicit horizontal exemption and all our amendments calling for sector-specific exemptions were rejected. Our call for a positive list of sectors, which was a red line for the Greens as well as the Social-Democrats, was also rejected, leading both political groups to vote against the opinion as a whole.

The Investment-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system was the most taboo issue. The ALDE rapporteur simply shoved the topic aside and refused to discuss it, stating that as it was not "IMCO competence", although it would obviously have an impact on the internal market. ISDS amounts to a privatization of justice, thereby undermining the right of States to regulate in the general interest. Within such a system, private investors de facto have access to a parallel judicial system, separate from ordinary courts, which is closed to all other stakeholders such as citizens, consumers and national companies, and which creates legal uncertainty for public procurement contracts. In this sense, ISDS is clearly incompatible with the smooth functioning of the internal market and consumer interests. Under our initiative, and together with GUE and S&D members, a compromise amendment was tabled, stating that ordinary courts should remain in charge and that any ISDS mechanism which would undermine the right of the competent authorities of the EU to regulate must be rejected. This proposal sparked a controversy within IMCO, the Rapporteur being unhappy with our decision to address ISDS... as if we could ignore the elephant in the room! The amendment was only narrowly rejected, and led to the rejection of the final opinion by the Greens, but also by S&D and GUE members.  

As Green MEP, my key priority is to ensure that the general interest of Europeans is respected. The current state of play, specifically regarding the issues mentioned above, leads me to conclude that the TTIP does constitute a threat , which is why I voted against the opinion. 

Background: IMCO is one of 13 opinion giving committees in the European Parliament who will submit their views to the International Trade committee that will inform the TTIP-resolution due to be voted on at the plenary in May. The IMCO opinion narrowly passed with 20 in favour, 18 against and 1 abstention. Greens voted against, due to the unsatisfactory wording on public services, and the absence of a mention of ISDS.

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