Will Labour MEPs back up their words on TTIP with action?


05 March 2015

The Labour Party MEPs are claiming some sort of victory over pulling the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament to a “very strong position paper on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), opposing the inclusion of the controversial mechanism in trade deals with both the US (TTIP) and Canada (CETA).” We should, however, be wary about rushing to congratulate them on a fantastic victory.

It is welcome that both Labour and the S&D group as a whole recognise the opposition to ISDS that is raging across the EU. It is the one of the most pernicious aspects of TTIP, CETA and many other trade deals being either negotiated or in existence. As some Labour MEPs have previously said, there is no need to establish ISDS between trading partners who have the most developed and sophisticated court systems in the world. It is akin to TTIP negotiators saying that the courts are fine for mere people and other parts of society, but big businesses need their own secret tribunal system.

Jude Kirton-Darling, who leads on TTIP for Labour in the European Parliament heralded yesterday’s agreement, saying “we can only contemplate support [for TTIP and CETA] if our conditions are met. One such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP.”

Strong words, but unfortunately they are stronger than the words written on the position paper.

If the S&D group are serious about opposing ISDS, they need to commit to a vote against CETA which is expected in early 2016. Currently they are trying to reform the ISDS provisions in CETA. The reforms detailed in the current text of CETA and the ones outlined in the S&D ‘areas for potential further improvement’ do not make ISDS acceptable in any sense.

The document agreed leaves plenty of wriggle room for future positions to be adjusted dependent on the outcomes of attempts to reform. It is perhaps instructive to note that the first version of the paper published had the words “ISDS must be rejected” at the end of the first paragraph. The subsequent version had been changed to read “ISDS is not necessary”.

There will be a chance for Labour and S&D to flex their muscles on the issue of ISDS. In May there will be a vote in the European parliament on the resolution from the trade committee (INTA) which is essentially opposed to the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP. Although the vote will not be binding on the EU Council, it would put the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP on extremely shaky ground. This vote looks likely to be the first real test of Labour / S&D resolve to truly oppose ISDS.

We fear the announcement from the Labour MEPs is an attempt to appeal to all camps rather than a decision to take a principled stance against ISDS outright. We must continue to pressurise our Labour representatives in Brussels.

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