The National | 8 July 2015
MEPs urged to vote against TTIP deal
MEPS are being urged to reject a controversial trade agreement between the US and the EU when a report on the deal is voted on today in the European Parliament.
Campaigners are calling on the 750 parliamentarians in Strasbourg to throw out a key aspect of the treaty and – following the Greek referendum on Sunday – make the event the second time this week in Europe in which democracy stands up to big business.
The vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was due to take place last month, but deferred on a technicality amid a growing number of amendments and an increasing sense of unease about the treaty.
TTIP aims to remove trade barriers to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between members of the EU and the United States, but a huge grass-roots campaign against the deal has sprung up with critics fearing it would give big business too much influence on national governments.
As proposals stand the treaty’s investor state dispute mechanism (ISDS) – one of its most controversial aspects – would allow businesses to take court action in secret against states with regard to legislation in a wide range of areas including workers’ rights, food safety and the environment, which companies say threatens current or future profits.
But European Parliament president Martin Schulz has put down an amendment for today’s vote which softens aspects of the corporate court hearings, allowing them to be heard in public.
However, critics including the Greens say the move which is being dubbed “ISDS-lite” does not address the key problems with the original proposals.
Nick Dearden, director of the campaign group opposed to TTIP, Global Justice Now, said: “Following on from the Greek referendum, this is the second episode of ‘democracy versus the markets’ to be played out in the EU this week. Leaders of the parliament, including president Martin Schulz, have firmly shown they are on the side of big business in both cases.
“We call on MEPs from all parties to clearly vote in line with the nearly two-and-a-half million people who have signed a petition calling for TTIP to be scrapped. We need a firm resolution against the corporate court system (ISDS), and a firm rejection of the attempts by Schulz to mislead and confuse the public.
“Schultz’s ‘ISDS-lite’ amendment in no way alters the fundamental problem of ISDS itself – that it gives corporations a wealth of opportunities to sue governments for passing laws that they don’t like. The Commission’s own public consultation on ISDS resulted in 97 per cent of the respondents saying that they were opposed to it.”
Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP and a member of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, added: “I will not be voting for the amendment. There is no place for ISDS in this treaty. Schultz’s amendment is warm words and flannel designed to paper over some pretty gaping chasms.”
Smith said he also had wider concerns about TTIP, in particular over the threat it presented to the ability of future Scottish and UK governments to regulate public services and standards.
Today’s vote is not legally binding but sets out the position of the European Parliament, signalling to the Commission what it may be prepared to accept and pass in the eventual outcome of the Commission’s negotiations.
After the commission has finished the negotiations on TTIP, it will have to come back to the European Parliament to get the treaty approved.
In April, Deputy First Minister John Swinney warned any economic benefits brought to Scotland by the TTIP agreement must not be at the expense of the right of governments to pass important laws.
In his letter to Christina McKelvie, convener of Holyrood’s European and External Relations Committee, he said research by the Scottish Government found TTIP would have a “positive though modest” impact on Scotland’s economy.
However, he stated: “It must be emphasised that the Scottish Government is firmly of the view that any economic benefits must not be at the expense of the NHS or public services, of high food, environmental or other standards or of the right of governments to regulate.”
The Scottish Greens have come out most definitively against TTIP describing it as an “assault on democracy”.
Lawsuits against a number of national governments have already taken place in other countries which have been the subject of similar trade agreements.
Fracking firm Lone Pine launched a $230 million lawsuit against the Canadian
Government in 2011 following Quebec’s moratorium on fracking in 2011 because of environmental concerns. The company, which had previously been issued with fracking licences, raised the action under the NAFTA trade agreement using the ISDS clause, claiming a threat to its future profits.
The Scottish Government has no formal role in the negotiations and ratification of the agreement would be the responsibility of the European Parliament and EU heads of states.
Negotiations began in July 2013 and are expected to continue throughout much of next year.