The hustles in Brussels – MEPs vote to block legal scrutiny of toxic trade deal
23 November 2016
One of the most controversial aspects of the toxic trade deals being pushed by the EU is the system of corporate courts. This is a parallel legal system that enables corporations to sue governments for billions of pounds for passing laws that might harm their profit margins.
Giving corporations a whole raft of legal new powers is not only wildly unpopular with people across Europe, it could very well be incompatible existing judicial systems in Europe. As Green MEP Yannick Jadot pointed out, “many legal experts, including the German Judges Association, and even an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, are convinced that any kind of ISDS [corporate courts] system in CETA may be incompatible with EU law.”
So if you have a trade deal that would have far-reaching implications for legal systems, surely the sensible thing to do would be to refer it to the experts on those legal systems so they could give it proper scrutiny before it came into force?
That’s exactly what 89 cross-party MEPs tried to do today in the European Parliament, with a motion to refer the corporate court system in the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) to the European Court of Justice in order for them to make a proper, informed decision as to its legal compatibility with the current judicial systems operating across Europe.
Sounds sensible, right?
Unfortunately, the motion was defeated today, with 258 MEPs voting for the referral, and 419 MEPs voting against. In the UK alone over 6,000 people emailed their MEPs to say that there should be proper legal scrutiny. While some MEPs like Molly Scott Cato (Green), Jude Kirton-Darling (Labour) and Julie Ward (Labour) were part of the original group that had proposed the referral, a series of UK MEPs voted to block it, including most Labour MEPs and UKIP's notorious Roger Helmer. What was particularly underhand about this vote was that pro-CETA MEPs used all sorts of underhand hustles to prevent a debate taking place ahead of the vote. So those who had concerns didn’t get any chance to articulate them.
So why would MEPs vote against something that seems so sensible? The answer is that it is desperation that is prompting MEPs to make such irresponsible decisions. Brussels has already been burnt after a tidal wave of people power stopped one toxic trade deal in its tracks (TTIP) and there is a sense amongst those who are deeply wedded to the process that they need to push something, ANYTHING through now regardless of the consequences. It doesn’t matter that the trade deal might mean exposing governments to ruthlessly litigious corporations from across the Atlantic, or locking us all into a model of privatised public services for years to come.
The good news is that this vote showed that there were 258 MEPs who have sensibly expressed concerns about the EU-Canada trade deal today. With the final vote for the ratification of CETA looking like it will take place in mid February then we have a big challenge but still have everything to play for in the coming months. We need to do all we can to woo a sizeable (but not impossible) number of MEPs over from their “CETA no matter what the cost” position, to one where they listen to the fact that millions of European citizens think that CETA represents a massive corporate coup. And then we’ll have stopped another toxic trade deal dead in its tracks.