Members of European Parliament (MEPs) on Wednesday passed a resolution on the pending trade deal between Europe and the United States, backing a controversial provision that critics warn places corporate profits above the health and safety of the people and puts the continent's fragile democracy at great risk.
Despite clear disagreement within European Parliament (EP) over the inclusion of a modified version of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, MEPs voted 436-241 in favor of a draft text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
"TTIP is fundamentally an issue of people and democracy versus encroaching corporate power." —Nick Dearden, Global Justice NowWhile MEPs have no direct role in the secret talks between nations, the draft will influence the way the European Commission proceeds with negotiations. Once negotiations are complete, MEPs will vote as to whether to accept or reject the final agreement.
Wednesday's vote came after contentious manipulations on the part of EP President Martin Schulz—for which he was accused of "shredding the rules of procedure"—to a remove an amendment that would have taken ISDS off the table entirely.
To date, more than 145,500 people have signed a petition calling for the exclusion of the ISDS mechanism, which establishes a parallel legal system enabling corporations to sue governments if public policy harms their profits. Further, 2.3 million people are backing a European Citizens Initiative to end TTIP negotiations altogether. In April, a global day of action against the deal saw tens of thousands of protesters across the European continent.
Opponents of the pact say it will undermine important health, food, labor, and environmental protections in favor of multinational interests and, following the vote, expressed dismay over the failure of their elected representatives to protect their citizens.
"Almost all the MEPs that voted in Parliament today have received many thousands of emails from their constituents wanting them to vote against TTIP," trade campaigner Guy Taylor wrote Wednesday. The roll call of the vote, Taylor adds, "shows who’s paying the piper in Strasbourg that MEPs can ignore such a strongly articulated public mandate and instead vote in favour of corporate interests."
"TTIP offers a nightmare vision of a world sold into corporate slavery." —John Hilary, War on WantCiting the more than 2.3 million people who are calling for an end to the TTIP negotiations, John Hilary, executive director of the international social justice group War on Want, also remarked, "Yet MEPs have chosen to ignore the wishes of their own constituents, siding instead with the business lobby against the people of Europe."
And Nick Dearden with the UK-based Global Justice Now added, "The only reason that MEPs are still trying so desperately to push this through is because of the enormously powerful corporate lobby machine in Brussels. TTIP is fundamentally an issue of people and democracy versus encroaching corporate power."
Instead of removing the controversial provision, the draft includes a so-called "ISDS-lite," which critics warn resolves none of the issues with the pro-corporate ISDS mechanism. Schulz inserted the compromise amendment after a previously scheduled vote was postponed due to internal disagreement over ISDS.
As Polly Jones, head of policy and campaigns with Global Justice Now, explained ahead of Wednesday's vote:
Late last week, the vote on the resolution was rescheduled for today, along with a compromise amendment designed to take support away from anti-ISDS positions. This amendment addresses none of the fundamental issues with ISDS and adds additional costs to EU tax payers of running a new supranational ISDS court. If MEPs agree to table the amendment many of the critical amendments on ISDS, including to remove ISDS altogether, will automatically be taken off the agenda. Given the balance of powers in the European parliament, it is likely that the new amendment will be both tabled and passed. This may be an admirable piece of footwork by Shultz and [EP trade committee chair Bernd Lange, who drafted the resolution] but it is a travesty for democracy.
On Tuesday, Green French MEP Yannick Jadot told reporters that Schulz had "twisted the arm of his group" to pressure anti-ISDS MEPs to support the new text. Referring to the ongoing negotiations over the economic crisis in Greece, Jadot added, "Schulz, not only wants Greece to have a technocratic democracy, but he wants to give European democracy to international firms."
The connection between the austerity mandate placed on Greece by Europe's financial elite and the advancement of yet another corporate-friendly "free trade" pact was not lost on others, as well.
"As a result of the imposition of crippling austerity policies on Greece and its recent rejection of them, democracy and the EU is already a hot topic this week," Jones wrote. "For the thousands of people opposed to TTIP, the systematic lack of democratic scrutiny and complete rejection of alternative perspectives on TTIP is yet another example of the EU’s inability to act in the interest of its citizens, favouring capitalist interests above all else."
The Center for International Environmental Law also notes that the current proposal "sets out a road map to derail the implementation of existing legislation and to undermine the ability of EU Member States to set standards of protection at a level that the public—not foreign governments and corporations—deems appropriate."
"Ignoring the massive public mobilisation against this dangerous Trojan Horse treaty will only result in strengthening opposition to it." —Natacha Cingotti, Friends of the Earth Europe
In recent months, industry and foreign governments have used the pending negotiations to "slow, weaken, or stop decision to protect public health in the EU," such as a recent European Commission decision to block regulations on endocrine disrupting chemicals in household items.
"TTIP offers a nightmare vision of a world sold into corporate slavery," added Hilary, of War on Want. He added that "if our elected representatives betray us by backing this vision, we will have no choice but to escalate the campaign" against it.
Natacha Cingotti, trade campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe, agreed. "Ignoring the massive public mobilisation against this dangerous Trojan Horse treaty will only result in strengthening opposition to it," Cingotti said. "MEPs have sided with big business and put democracy at risk by supporting these talks."
The next round of negotiations between EU and U.S. negotiating teams will take place next week in Brussels, Belgium from July 13 to 17.