21st Mar 2018

EU wrong to block anti-trade petition, court says

  • The EU-US trade agreement was subject to wide protests, but what eventually killed it was a failure of the EU and US to agree. (Photo: Jakob Huber/ECI Stop TTIP!)

The European Commission was wrong to refuse registration to a European citizens’ initiative called “Stop TTIP", the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday (10 May).

More than 3 million people signed the petition, which invited the EU executive to ask the Council, the member states’ body, to cancel its negotiating mandate on free trade agreements with the US and Canada - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta).

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Organisers submitted the text in July 2014, but the commission rejected it shortly afterwards.

The EU executive later argued in court that the negotiating mandate did not qualify as a "legal act".

It said that the commission may refuse registration to initiatives whose subject matter "manifestly falls outside the framework of its powers to propose a legal act".

But the court said in a statement on Wednesday that "the principle of democracy, which is one of the fundamental values of the EU and the objective behind the European citizens’ initiatives", required a broader interpretation.

It said that interpretation covered decisions to open negotiations on international agreements that "manifestly seek to modify the legal order of the EU".

Judges also rejected the idea that the popular initiative would have interfered with ongoing trade talks.

"The aim pursued by the European citizens’ initiative is to allow EU citizens to participate more in the democratic life of the EU," the court said.

It noted that if the commission had registered the anti-TTIP and CETA text as being admissible it could still have rejected its request later on, but the text would have been subjected to public hearings at the European Parliament.

Michael Efler, a member of the citizens' committee, welcomed the court's ruling as "a good day for European democracy".

“The commission’s refusal to register our initiative was arbitrary and political. They were not willing to hear the voices of citizens opposing their neo-liberal projects called TTIP and Ceta," he said in an emailed statement.

The commission should now decide whether it will appeal the verdict or register the initiative.

But even if it does, it would not really matter.

Ceta was ratified during the trial and TTIP talks have broken down after the election of Donald Trump as US president.

Efler said the court should in the future act more quickly if the commission refused to register an initiative.

The court ruling could feed into an upcoming review of the legislation on European citizens’ initiatives, which was recently announced by the commission.

The initiatives have proved costly and cumbersome to use.

Only a few organisations have been able to fulfil the criteria to submit them, which say a petition must collect at least a million signatures, with special thresholds in member states.

Meanwhile, registration does not grant success.

Not a single proposal has reached the aim of convincing the commission to propose legislation on a given topic since the instrument was introduced six years ago.

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