Energy Charter Treaty

The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is a plurilateral investment agreement between 53 European and Central Asian countries. It was signed in 1994 and entered into force in April 1998.

About 30 countries around the world are at different stages of joining the ECT. Burundi, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Mauritania are first in line, followed by Pakistan and Uganda.

The original objective of the ECT was to overcome the political and economic divisions between Eastern and Western Europe after the demise of the Soviet Union, as well as to strengthen Europe’s energy security. European countries wanted to secure the access to fossil fuel resources of the former Soviet countries by protecting foreign energy investments in these countries.

The ECT provides for an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism to resolve disputes between an investor and a member state. To this day, it is the world’s most widely used legal instrument for initiating ISDS arbitrations. It has been invoked by investors in 124 cases.

Critics argue that as with most other investment agreements, it places investors’ economic rights and interests over the social, ecological and economic interests of host states and their societies. The ECT imposes obligations on the host state but not on foreign investors. The ECT has also been condemned by environmental activists for protecting the fossil fuel industry and undermining serious climate action.

Spain has been subject to 45 arbitration disputes under the ECT after it implemented a series of energy reforms affecting the renewables sector, including a reduction in subsidies for producers. While some cases are still pending, Spain has already been ordered to pay over €800 million.

You can find out more about the Energy Charter Treaty on the ECT’s dirty secrets website.

Key cases include:

Vattenfall (Sweden) vs. Germany: In 2007 the Swedish energy corporation was granted a provisional permit to build a coal-fired power plant near the city of Hamburg. In an effort to protect the Elbe river from the waste waters dumped from the plant, environmental restrictions were added before the final approval of its construction. The investor initiated a dispute, arguing it would make the project unviable. The case was ultimately settled in 2011, with the city of Hamburg agreeing to the lowering of environmental standards.

Yukos (Isle of Man) vs. Russia: Yukos was a Russian oil and gas company. It was acquired from the Russian government during the controversial “loans for shares” auctions of the mid 1990s, whereby some of the largest state industrial assets were leased (in effect privatized) through auctions for money lent by commercial banks to the government. The auctions were rigged and lacked competition, and effectively became a form of selling for a very low price. In 2003, the Yukos CEO was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion and the following year Yukos’ assets were frozen or confiscated. In 2007 Yukos’ former shareholders filed a claim for over US$100 billion, seeking compensation for their expropriation. The dispute resulted in 2014 in the arbitrators awarding the majority shareholders over US$50 billion in damages. The investors have been trying to enforce the award in several countries since then.

NextEra (Netherland) vs. Spain: The Dutch investor filed for arbitration in May 2014, after Spain changed the regulatory framework applicable to its investment, namely the construction of two solar power plants. NextEra claimed that Spain abolished the long-term premium and tariff system, negatively affecting the profitability of the project. However, Spain alleged that NextEra should have been aware that changes could be made to the regulatory regime. In May 2019, the investor was awarded around €290 million. Spain filed for annulment in October 2019.

Photo: Marc Maes / Twitter

Last update: April 2020

Reuters | 26-Jan-2016
An international arbitrator threw out claims from two investors protesting against Spain’s 2010 cuts to renewable energy subsidies, setting a potential precedent for other lawsuits pending.
Open Democracy UK | 4-Dec-2015
Britain’s role, not just with TTIP, seems to be that of facilitating and encouraging excessive corporate power over governments all around the world.
Lexology | 4-Nov-2015
The number of claims filed by renewable energy investors under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) has risen significantly.
S2B | 7-Oct-2015
Why the Commission’s proposal for an “Investment Court System” still fails to address the key problems of foreign investors’ privileges
Green Agenda | 11-Sep-2015
There has been an explosive increase of cases of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Modern investor-state disputes often revolve around public policy measures and implicate sensitive issues such as health and environmental protection
Euractiv | 8-Sep-2015
The European Commission will not ask EU judges to decide on the legality of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism in free trade agreements.
El País | 7-Aug-2015
Spain has suffered its first setback in an international arbitration process over its cuts to renewable energy subsidies.
The Guardian | 10-Jun-2015
Fifty years ago, an international legal system was created to protect the rights of foreign investors. Today, as companies win billions in damages, insiders say it has got dangerously out of control
The Ecologist | 25-May-2015
In the rush to oppose TTIP we mustn’t lose sight of the context in which the deal is being negotiated — the hundreds of bilateral treaties that give corporations the right to sue in secret ’trade courts’.
Jacobin Magazine | 15-May-2015
Opponents of the trade deal being secretly negotiated between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam have moved the discussion beyond its putative impact on jobs and growth and closer to the agreement’s broader ramifications, writes the IUF’s Peter Rossman.

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