09 July 2015

TTIP resolution pushed through, as dishonesty wins the day in the European Parliament

Final vote comes to 436 in favour, 241 against, with citizen concerns largely dropped from text.

Simon McKeagney, Editor

Just after last month’s shambolic plenary in Strasbourg, when the TTIP vote was postponed over ISDS, Bernd Lange held a press conference in which he claimed his wording against ISDS was “crystal clear”, and that reintroducing a specific reference to ISDS would further clarify the stance of the centre-left S&D, so there was “no room for interpretation.”

Well, only 4 weeks after such iron-clad commitments, and after two years of public campaigning by citizens, Bernd Lange, Martin Schulz and the S&D group have effectively ensured the safe passage of ISDS for the ongoing negotiations for TTIP. How do we know? This Tweet says it all:

The EPP’s Christofer Fjellner is not known for mincing his words in his blanket support for TTIP at all costs, and ISDS in particular. He has even been resistent to any sort of reform agenda for ISDS in the past. Yet here he is endorsing Lange’s new compromise on ISDS. So is compromise 117 really a rejection of ISDS?

Also worth clarifying, while all of UK Labour voted against the compromise 117, with the exception of David Martin, let's be clear that ISDS was not rejected in the end. Some may think otherwise when seeing Clare Moody graphics on the final result:

Though to be fair to Clare, all Labour MEPs (again with the exception of David Martin) also rejected the entire resolution. Good for them, and a pity more of their colleagues couldn't be convinced.

The half-truth, and nothing but the half-truth

Lange and the S&D may claim victory over ISDS with the passing of amendment 117, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. How else would it be possible for the cheerleaders of ISDS, from ALDE, EPP, and ECR to support this amendment otherwise? To do so would have been to reverse their long-held stances on the subject in just a matter of weeks. 

In fact what was voted through is an endorsement of ISDS-lite, with some minor tweaks around the edges, green-lighting a future TTIP to include a provision allowing corporations to sue governments for regulating in the public interest. Transport & Environment’s Cecile Torbeau further details this in Euractiv yesterday: 'they may even devise a new acronym – but the text exposes how the nature of this system has not changed.'

A better half of you might say that the S&D MEPs considered the wording good enough to put to rest any fears that ISDS undermines rule of law and democracy. But you could also interpret it another way; ever the wannabe kingmakers, with pressure from their grand coalition partners in EPP, ALDE, ECR, as well as not wanting to scupper the entire deal on this one issue, as the Americans and the Commission watch on, the S&D buckled once more, running from a principled stance to the safety of the centre. We'll leave it up to you to decide.

Schulz’ rules, or no rules

By the time the debate began on Tuesday, the Greens made a last ditch attempt to win over support for Amendment 27- a cross-group initiative, originally signed by over 100 MEPs, including many S&D members. Yannick Jadot even went a step further, proposing another compromise amendment last minute to highlight just how imperfect the S&D compromise 117 was. It was clear that the compromise developed by Schulz and tabled by Lange was not “crystal clear” on ISDS, and that the momentum around supporting amendment 27 was fizzling away amongst many S&D members. Citizens and democracy will ultimately pay the price. 

Yannick Jadot, Greens/EFA tries to convince colleagues to vote for amendment 27, the clearest rejection of ISDS

By the time the vote came around on Wednesday, a game of procedural manoeuvres had been evoked to try and stop Yannick Jadot's compromise from being voted on. Aside from the fact that Schulz’ involvement in amendment writing puts into question his neutral role as President of the European Parliament, what was more incredible was his manipulation of the rules of procedure to ensure that his compromise on ISDS was voted first, therefore ensuring all other compromises on the issue fell. That “interpretation” of the rules led to come angry scenes in the chamber, especially from Green MEPs (video below). Most S&D members, who were said to be quite unhappy last week with Schulz’ meddling, eventually fell into line in the end, including Bernd Lange, who was finally convinced to table the new compromise. But it is telling that 66 S&D members voted against the ISDS compromise in the end. 

Also telling: all Belgian S&D members, all French, almost all the Polish and Austrian, (and let's not forget the UK S&D, bar David Martin) voted against the final over all resolution. As did 4 members of ALDE, and 3 EPP. But still, a broad majority passed the resolution, which in the end will not reflect the many issues raised in recent months.

And let’s remember what else MEPs voted against

After such a political battle, this resolution may have been one of the few opportunities in this legislature for MEPs to make a loud statement, both to citizens (that they are listening to the issues raised) and to the negotiating team: to highlight no-go areas of importance and ensure genuine concerns from the public are taken into account. Instead, on top of cementing in ISDS, the grand coalition stripped the final resolution of much of the concern that has arisen in EU countries in recent months. Here is a snapshot of amendments that were voted against: 

  • Exclude UK healthcare NHS + full carve out for NHS (Amendment 35 + 36)
  • Full positive list approach for services, ensuring only sectors specifically mentioned in the agreement will be included (Amendment 13)
  • No lowering of EU standards (Amendment 82)
  • No weakening of labour laws to attract investment (Amendment 20)
  • Take into account EU climate goals (Amendment 21)
  • Climate policy priority over trade promotion (Amendment 11) 
  • Make public all the negotiation texts on regulatory cooperation (Amendment 24)
  • Prevent chlorine chicken (Amendment 64)

The pressure to ensure that this resolution reflects broad, positive support for TTIP eventually won the day. We need to watch this space. If we can't even get our elected parliamentarians to mark out key red lines, then how will we ever be able to convince the Commission to take them into account?

A tiny silver lining, a lot of work to do

Small positives to take away from the vote include amendment 19, which asked for no negotiation on GMOs, REACH chemical regulations, or on cloning. Similarly, amendment 16 calling on the EU to adopt and maintain any measures regarding educational and culture services also passed. A small consolation.

But what next? With the US still focused on securing the Trans-Pacific deal this year, the real political battles on TTIP won't begin until the end of 2015, or start of 2016. Only then do the negotiations really take off, and they could still take years to conclude. CETA, the much smaller deal between Canada and the EU has still not been ratified by the parliament, and those negotiations began 5 years ago.

This means we still have time to highlight the many issues TTIP raises, and further cement support against the anti-democratic ISDS. Let’s remember, in 2013 when negotiations were announced, no one had heard of ISDS. Two years later it has the power to postpone votes and spawn political dog-fights in Brussels and in Member States. The TTIP fight has a long way to go. And it’s not over till it’s over.

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rosemary whitbread

What a disgrace! The President fiddles the order of voting so that his amendment coming first negates those coming after !
I don't support UKIP here in the UK but when I see this behaviour, I seriously wonder if we should stay in Europe. I don't want our country's laws overruled by ISDS let alone by this man's wholely unlawful action.

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