Five things to watch out for in Wednesday’s key vote on TTIP

Note: this vote has been postponed. More information as we get it

Wednesday’s vote in the European Parliament might not be binding, but it is nonetheless a critically important milestone. This is because ultimately the parliament will have to say yes or no to TTIP. So setting out clear red lines will make it very difficult for the Commission to simply ignore Parliament’s opinion at this stage.   

TTIP as a whole won’t be rejected at this stage. But a strong rejection of the most odious parts of TTIP would be a major blow for supporters of the EU-US deal.

Here are 5 things to watch out for in the upcoming vote:

1. The battle of the ISDS amendments

In the run up to the vote, a total of 116 amendments have been tabled to the draft resolution. Many of them are just MEPs making narrow party political points. But two amendments in particular will determine what is said about ISDS in the final resolution. Remember ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) is the system that allows countries to be sued by foreign corporations for damaging their profits.

The first amendment (currently number 27 but likely to change before the vote) is a strong rejection of ISDS. It not only rejects the current system but deletes wording around a “new and effective system of investment protection” which is the idea set out by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström of reinventing ISDS as an International Investment Court. The amendment also explicitly highlights that domestic courts are the ‘alternative’ to ISDS.

The second amendment (currently 115) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On the face of it, it sounds similar, rhetorically rejecting ISDS and talking about the need for domestic courts to be “respected”. However, it still proposes a “permanent solution” to the problem of corporates thinking that they shouldn’t be bound by judgements issued by domestic courts. It also leaves the wording on finding a new system to replace ISDS intact. In other words, it rejects ISDS by name, but leaves the door open to accepting a ‘non-ISDS’ international arbitration court along the lines of what has been proposed by Malmström.

If the first amendment goes through, the writing will be on the wall for ISDS. If the second amendment passes instead, then efforts to rebrand ISDS will intensify, possibly leading to the creation of a permanent international tribunal. This would open up a mechanism for letting corporate profit be better protected in law than, say, human rights. Remember, the UK could repeal the Human Rights Act and even pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, but we will be bound to participate in this new international court of corporate rights by treaty.

2. What do the S&D do?

The key political group to watch on Wednesday will be the S&D group, who are the second biggest party in the European Parliament – the bloc that includes Labour.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the liberals (ALDE) and the conservatives (ECR) are expected to mostly back TTIP and ISDS, though there will be a few who break ranks (and we need them to). Together these three groups make up 48 % of the parliament.

The greens and the left-wing parties have around 14 % of the seats between them and will vote against. They will probably be joined by the Eurosceptic EFD group and other independents who are another 13% , though it’s unclear if UKIP (in the EFD) will join those voting for amendment 27 – another good reason to lobby hard.

So it’s the socialists who are the ‘swing’ vote on this. Until recently, the S&D group were generally in favour of TTIP as a whole but against both ISDS and the inclusion of public services. This position seemed to be under threat after a confused vote in the trade committee in favour of reforming ISDS. Labour MEPs say they voted this way to get the resolution out of committee and onto the floor of the parliament, where they can win a clear anti-ISDS amendment. Most Labour MEPs now support the critical amendment 27, along with all Greens, Sinn Fein and others. However, we need all S&D MEPs to back 27 for it to pass. Senior Labour trade expert David Martin hasn’t backed 27, but has backed the fudged amendment 115.

Holding Labour MEPs to their promise is vital! We can’t win in parliament without almost all of them voting for the key amendments.

3. Regulatory cooperation

ISDS isn’t the only contentious subject being debated on Wednesday. MEPs have tabled a number of amendments rejecting the race to the bottom on standards that TTIP would bring. For example, one amendment (currently number 17) calls for the exclusion of the agricultural sector from regulatory cooperation, which would stop the threat of hormone treated beef and chlorinated chicken. Another (currently 56) expresses concern about regulatory cooperation meaning adoption of the lowest common denominator on standards.

The strongest amendment (currently 95) has been put forward by the left-wing GUE-NGL group which demands that any regulatory harmonisation must only be to the highest common denominator “without exception”. While such an outright rejection of regulatory cooperation is unlikely to pass, if any amendments get passed with language critical of this dangerous process, it will be a huge victory for the anti-TTIP campaign.

4. The fuel quality directive

The effect of TTIP on the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) is one of the most controversial aspects of the deal. As originally envisaged, this directive would effectively ban the import of Canadian tar sands oil to the Europe. Persuading the EU to abandon this plan is a key negotiating priority for both the US and Canada as part of TTIP and its Canadian equivalent CETA. Expect the green group to vote for an amendment that mentions this (currently 22). But if this attracts a broader coalition of support, including a significant number of S&D or EPP MEPs, then this is a sign that TTIP could be in trouble in the longer term.

5. The plenary vote and the EU Commission reaction

If critical amendments do get passed, or if there’s a larger than expected ‘no’ vote, watch out for the EU Commission modifying its negotiating stance. Some of this will be cosmetic PR work. But public anger over the possibility of lead lipstick and wart remover mascara arguably led the Commission to publicly state that it didn’t want to see cosmetics regulation harmonised in the deal (whether this will slip back in under US pressure later remains to be seen). While the EU tries to ignore public opinion on TTIP, if support for the deal with the parliament looks shaky, it may seek to take measures to assuage wavering MEPs consciences.

Strong anti-ISDS feeling might also delay the vote on CETA, the EU-Canada equivalent of TTIP, which is currently scheduled for early next year.

And even the basic draft resolution as it currently stands does concede that the negotiations have been too secretive so far. There is a chance of further concessions on transparency. Though I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.



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