Friday

22nd Mar 2019

MEPs back US free trade after Socialist U-turn

MEPs gave their thumbs up to EU-US trade talks and backed away from a confrontation with the European Commission over investor protection rights in a surprise vote on Thursday (28 May).

Deputies on the trade committee voted by 28 to 13 to support a non-legislative report by Bernd Lange, the German centre-left MEP committee chair, while the centre-left Socialist group had a change of heart on the controversial issue of investor/state dispute settlement (ISDS).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The compromise resolution backed by the European Parliament’s main groups, including the centre-right EPP and the Socialists, calls for a transparent legal mechanism for disputes, where cases are heard by "publicly appointed, independent" judges, with the opportunity for decisions to be appealed.

It also suggests that a public international investment court would be the "most appropriate" means to handle investment disputes in the medium term.

Earlier this month, trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem unveiled plans to set up a global court to decide on disputes between investors and governments in a bid to defuse the controversy, although US officials have indicated that they do not support the re-opening of the ISDS regime.

Backing the compromise following days of back-room wrangling with the EPP marks a significant U-turn by the Socialists.

Lange’s draft report had originally called for ISDS to simply be excluded from the remit of negotiations.

At a press conference following the committee vote, Lange described the assembly’s position as “crystal clear”.

“The current model for ISDS is no longer being tolerated by Parliament,” he said, adding that any new legal instrument “would have to be an independent court arbitration … moving away from private courts”.

The vote was hailed as a "victory for free trade" by Christofer Fjellner, the EPP's spokesman on the committee.

But German Green deputy Ska Keller said: “There is no clear message now whether this report will exclude an ISDS or a reformed ISDS”.

Discussions on ISDS have been frozen since March 2014, when the commission opened a consultation to gauge public opinion on the issue.

Ninety seven percent of the submissions to the EU executive, most of them coming from campaign groups, opposed the inclusion of the investment regime.

Critics of ISDS warn that it allows firms to take governments to court if they discriminate against them or introduce new laws which threaten their investments, saying it could have grave implications for consumer protection, environmental and health legislation.

“ISDS needs reform but the reality is that we need to leave every option on the table … and not just leave red lines,” said British Conservative Party deputy Emma McClarkin.

“We desperately need investment in the EU,” she noted, adding that the vote by MEPs “injected a dose of caffeine into TTIP negotiations.”

The business lobby group BusinessEurope also welcomed the report.

“Today’s vote shows we have come a long way and positive dynamics are back,” said its chief, Markus Beyrer.

Others were less happy.

“There wasn’t enough courage to reject ISDS,” said German left-wing MEP Werner Schulz, who accused deputies of having ignored concerns on a raft of issues. The Greens and left-wing Gue group both voted against the resolution.

“Deplorably, the European Parliament took a very ambiguous stance on the infamous Investor/State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system,” said Monique Goyens, secretary general of consumer association BEUC.

“We have yet to see any facts justifying its inclusion in an EU/US trade deal,” she added.

Trade officials have now completed nine rounds of negotiations since summer 2013 and are hoping to keep as close as possible to their self-imposed deadline of December 2015 to agree a draft text.

The timing is important in a bid to avoid TTIP getting caught up in the race to replace Barack Obama in the White House, which will begin in earnest in autumn.

The next round of talks will take place in July.

Although the EU parliament, which will adopt its final position in Strasbourg on June 10th, cannot change the commission’s negotiating mandate, it has the power to veto a draft agreement.

EU-US trade talks to drift into 2016

Negotiations on a landmark EU-US free trade deal will drag into 2016 - a blow to those hoping for a swift agreement under Barack Obama’s presidency.

EU unveils plans for global investor court

The EU has unveiled plans to set up a global court to decide on investor disputes with governments in a bid to defuse one of the main controversies in EU-US trade talks.

EUobserved

Campaigning commissioners blur the lines

EU commissioners campaigning for a national post have to take a leave of absence - while those running for an EU job do not. This distinction undermines the effort to close the gap between EU and national politics.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  2. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  3. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  4. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  5. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  6. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  7. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May
  8. Juncker suggests emergency Brexit summit next week

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us