'Stop TTIP' activists hand EU 3mn signatures
By Eszter Zalan
Activists opposing the EU’s free trade agreements with the US and Canada symbolically handed over more than 3 million signatures to European Commission officials on Wednesday (7 October), in support of an initiative to stop negotiations.
Organisers of the 'Stop TTIP' campaign said that with the help of 500 organisations, they had collected 3,263,920 signatures from 23 member states in the space of a year, three times more than the official benchmark and surpassing the seven-country quorum for a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) to be launched. They say it is the largest number of signatures collected by an ECI so far.
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However, their voices have so far fallen on deaf ears.
In theory, since 2012, ECIs enable citizens to call on the Commission to legislate on any issues, where the EU executive has the power to propose new rules. So far, only 4 out of the 28 registered ECIs have reached the one million signature benchmark.
One year ago, the Commission refused to register the 'Stop TTIP' initiative, arguing that the Council decision authorising the opening of negotiations with the US is not “a legal act of the Union”, and is therefore exempt from the initiative.
The ratification of the agreement with Canada, where the initiative is inviting the Commission not to propose a legal act, also falls outside the scope of the possible issues that can be addressed by ECI.
“It is a legal matter, not a political assessment that was carried out,” Commission spokesperson Alexander Winterstein said on Wednesday.
He added: "What's not possible, is to ask the Commission to not do something, or not to negotiate, simply not covered by the regulation."
Michael Efler, a member of the 'Stop TTIP' citizens’ committee, said on Wednesday: “We demand at least a European Parliamentary hearing.”
“TTIP and CETA (the free trade agreement with Canada) both constitute a threat to democracy as foreign investors will have open access to courts,” Efler said, referring to the controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS), that would allow companies to take national governments before private courts to iron out disagreements.
Efler said changes proposed by the Commission to the ISDS system in September don’t go far enough.
“It will not solve the problem, still only investors can sue the state, and only the state can be sued,” he said.
Elfer added that 'Stop TTIP' challenged the Commission’s decision to reject the initiative in the European Court of Justice, but does not expect a ruling until 2016.
“This is a question of democracy, it is ridiculous that you can’t have citizens' voices heard on international treaties, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Activists on Wednesday morning mounted thousands of signatures on a scale to symbolically outweigh political influence by companies on Schuman Square in the heart of Brussels' EU quarter.
An activist wearing a mask of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker held up a sign saying: “There’s no democratic choice against EU treaties”.
Later on they marched to the Commission’s nearby Berlaymont building chanting: “Stop TTIP!”
An official from Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans’ cabinet formally received the signatures, but did not promise a review of the petition.
The ECI mechanism is already under review in all EU institutions. The European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee recently adopted a report calling for a more effective and easier way to use the system to be set up by the Commission.