Monday

23rd Sep 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.

Four EU states want 'automatic' refugee relocation

The interior ministers from France, Germany, Italy, and Malta are meeting on Monday to discuss a new temporary and voluntary agreement for the relocation of asylum seekers, that will prevent EU countries from negotiating case-by-case.

Opinion

Blocking Brexit will boost the far-right

Mainstream British politicians have a responsibility to find ways how to counter the growing far-right extremist threat. Overturning Brexit will only serve to intensify it.

Investigation

EU institution beset by harassment claims

Insiders at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the EU's smallest institution, have described a culture-of-fear environment in the workplace, in the wake of the probationary appointment of its newest secretary-general.

News in Brief

  1. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  2. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban
  3. 600,000 stranded on holiday as Thomas Cook collapses
  4. Egypt: hundreds of protesters arrested over weekend
  5. Global car industry fears no-deal Brexit shock
  6. France: de-escalation between US and Iran priority
  7. Spain demands UK 'reciprocity' on resident rights
  8. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'

Agenda

Europe goes to New York This WEEK

Iran and climate change likely to dominate as French president Emmanuel Macron speaks for Europe at the UN general assembly in New York this week.

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  2. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  4. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  8. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  10. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  11. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  12. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  6. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  7. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  10. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us