Lawsuit served against European Commission for ‘stifling debate’ on TTIP

Lawsuit served against European Commission for ‘stifling debate’ on TTIP

Date: 10 November 2014

This morning, we were part a broad coalition of groups serving a lawsuit in Luxembourg against the European Commission for stifling democratic debate on TTIP, and here’s why.

The European Commission goes to great lengths to avoid debate, public scrutiny and awareness about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). They have issued a disputed set of headline figures and projections which are meant to keep everyone happy and on board. The rest of the agreement is left to lawyers from both sides of the Atlantic to negotiate and agree the rules which could affect us all for the foreseeable future. TTIP discussion papers are not being made public for thirty years, the various rounds of discussion are held in secret and stages of agreement are only vaguely referred to in updates as the process develops. Concerned groups such as WDM are dependent on leaks to follow what’s going on.

The UK’s media appear to readily accept this secrecy, we have yet to see a high ranking minister pushed for real answers in an interview.

Concerned civil society organisations, bending over backwards to be civil and to work through the correct channels, wanted to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ask for reconsideration in the commitment the EU is making to this controversial trade agreement. Although the Initiative called for the scrapping of TTIP, the obligation on the Council, should the Initiative be successful, would only be to consider that call.  

An ECI is essentially a petition which has several stages to go through and a high level threshold to achieve, which then requests that the European Commission reconsiders legislation of policy on a certain issue. The first stage of an ECI is to establish a seven plus member committee living in at least seven different member states. You then register your initiative with the EU. After that you have to gather one million signatures, with a stiff threshold reached from at least seven individual member states. Finally, after much scrutiny and verification, the Commission considers your Initiative.

The ECI system was introduced in May 2012 and since then there have been three successful Initiatives accepted.

The EU Commission refused to allow the ECI on TTIP past the second stage. In a refusal so encrusted in bureaucratic waffle, it could make a Soviet-era apparatchik take a bow, the request to launch an Initiative was turned down. The Commission argued that

“The negotiation of an international agreement precedes and prepares its signature and conclusion. The Council decision authorising the opening of negotiations is therefore a preparatory act with respect to the Council decisions authorising the signature and conclusion of an international agreement, which are adopted on the basis of Commission proposals. As such, it deploys legal effects only between the institutions concerned without modifying EU law. Such modification occurs only once the result of the negotiations, i.e. the international agreement, is signed and concluded.”

No, neither did I.

Our response was to work on two fronts: to challenge the decision legally and to press ahead regardless.

Now, just two months after the refusal there was a court case being filed against the Commission at the European Court of Justice, and, more significantly, over 850,000 signatures on the self organised ECI, collected in just over a month and currently being promoted by WDM and its partners across Europe.

Whilst it will be some time before the European Court of Justice rules on this issue, it is important to challenge  such a precedent being made. The whole idea of the ECI was to bring the EU hierarchy closer to ordinary people. This rejection makes a complete mockery of that intent.

Nick Dearden, Director of the World Development Movement said:

“There’s a huge level of suspicion over the way this controversial trade deal is being negotiated. Politicians have gone to great lengths to avoid debate on the issue.  A million people are calling on the Commission to review its policy on TTIP, and the Commission denied those voices a hearing in favour of continuing to negotiate in secret – a disgracefully undemocratic decision.”

Make sure you’re on board by signing the ECI, get your friends and colleagues to do likewise and join the growing army of people refusing to accept the job losses and hardships that will accompany TTIP if it were to be agreed.