The great TTIP debate that never was
10 June 2015
Is TTIP now on the ropes? The US-EU trade deal known as TTIP is being dealt weekly setbacks at the moment, culminating in angry scenes in the European parliament this morning.
On one side of the Atlantic, Obama seems to be losing his fight to get so-called ‘fast track’ authority through Congress. Without it, TTIP’s progress slows to a snail’s pace. Meanwhile in Strasbourg, the European parliament was told it couldn’t vote on TTIP, after the pro-TTIP leadership feared it had lost control of the debate and risked being defeated on a crucial vote.
This is significant because these legislative battles represent the first time elected representatives have been given a chance to air their voices on TTIP since public disquiet started growing last year. That’s how insulated these negotiations are from influence by ordinary people. All the more shocking then that Commissioner Malmström, the unelected official who oversees the TTIP negotiations, seemed to think this morning’s debate was something worth laughing about on Twitter.
Having postponed the vote on TTIP the EP is now debating on whether to have the debate now ot not. :)— Cecilia Malmström (@MalmstromEU) June 10, 2015
So what happened in Strasbourg? The European Parliament was due to vote on a report from the Trade Committee. This tedious sounding procedure had generated nearly 900 amendments in committee stage, with over 100 still to be voted on by the whole parliament this morning. Although the resolution was non-binding, this was the most significant parliamentary vote on TTIP to date. Given that the parliament will ultimately have to ratify the deal, this was the chance for representatives to lay out their red lines. ‘If this stays in, we vote down the whole deal’.
Ahead of the vote, campaigners announced that the Europe-wide petition against TTIP had reached a record-breaking 2 million signatures, opposing the deal outright. Here in London a group of celebrity artists, actors and designers launched a new groups Artists Against TTIP. MEPs themselves had received tens of thousands of emails.
Then, to the shock of dozens of MEPs, the vote was off. Leading socialist group MEPs Martin Schulz and Bernd Lange claimed there were ‘too many amendments’, but in reality they feared they were about to lose control of their own party bloc, where many MEPs, especially from the Labour Party, were ready to vote down important aspects of TTIP like the ‘corporate court’ mechanism known as ISDS. If the majority of the Socialists teamed up with the Greens, the Left bloc and the Eurosceptics, it would take only a few dissidents from other blocs to carry a really critical resolution. They couldn’t risk it. Working with the leadership of the Conservative, Liberal and centre-right blocs, Schulz and Lange closed down the debate.
This morning, MEPs got up early to try to overturn the postponement. They came within two votes of doing so, amid what Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said were:
They were joined by many Labour and UKIP MEPs.
Incredibly, after saying she was “Very disappointed” about not having a debate yesterday, Emma McClarkin and the Tory MEPs voted against holding the debate this morning, siding with the EU bureaucracy against parliament speaking on a vital trade deal which is a real threat to our sovereignty.
TTIP now goes back to the trade committee to find a way forward. This is unlikely to resolve anything as all blocs have enough to maintain their amendments when it next comes to the floor of parliament, presumably in September. The EU establishment hopes this will allow enough time for the big business lobbyists and the party apparatchiks to bribe and bully MEPs into dropping their resolve. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.