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28/09/2016

Parliament TTIP fight drags on

Trade & Society

Parliament TTIP fight drags on

Anti-trade deal demonstration. European Parliament, Strasbourg.

[greensefa/Flickr]

In retaliation for the Socialists and Democrats’ postponement of the TTIP vote on Tuesday (9 June), the EPP succeeded in calling off the debate scheduled for the next day. The two groups blame each other for the situation. EurActiv France reports

The cancellation of the European Parliament’s vote on TTIP caused tumult among MEPs on Tuesday, and the drama continued the next day. Martin Schulz’s decision to delay the vote, because too many amendments had been tabled, upset the legislature’s rightist groups, who felt that the trade agreement had been taken hostage by the left. So they decided to retaliate.

>>Read: Delayed TTIP vote drives wedge between grand coalition

At an animated meeting on Tuesday evening, the EPP decided to try and cancel the debate, knowing they could rely on the support of the notoriously pro-TTIP British members of the ECR. Wednesday morning’s vote to postpone the debate passed by a hair’s breadth: 183 votes for, to 181 against.

Great disappointment

The cancellation of what was to be the main debate of the plenary session was a big disappointment for many MEPs.

Pascal Durand, a French Green MEP, said, “This is baffling, seeing as the Commission does not give us that much work anyway. The two important votes of the session have been cancelled.” The European Parliament’s debate on the Coferatti report, scheduled for Monday, was also called off.

The extreme left and right parties who, together with the Greens, make up the hard core of the Parliament’s anti-TTIP movement, have cried foul and accused the Social Democrats of being in bed with the British Conservatives.

Cooperation, not coalition

S&D president Gianni Pitellla said, “If we want to send a clear message on TTIP to the European Commission, we have to find a majority of MEPs that will not reject it come what may!”

The Italian MEP added that, in his opinion, the European Parliament’s “grand coalition” is an illusion. “We engage in legislative cooperation. It is not a ‘grand coalition’ like in Germany, because there is no government. Without a majority, we always have to find ways to compromise,” he said.

But the public splits within the S&D group over the transatlantic trade negotiations have not gone unnoticed or uncriticised by the right. Françoise Grossetête, a French EPP member, blamed the S&D’s troubles on its leader’s inability to hold the group together. She said, “Gianni Pitella is mediocre. He is a champion of mediocrity.”

Trouble in the EPP

“I am highly concerned about the divisions among the Socialists,” said EPP member Alain Lamassoure. But his own group is not without its problems. Polish, Spanish and French EPP members caused a crisis recently when they rebelled over the proposed immigrant quota system.

According to one S&D member, the situation among the Social Democrats is more serious. “Some members still don’t understand how the European Parliament works. They never want to hear about compromise. But without compromise, we get nothing done,” the MEP said.

Bernd Lange, the European Parliament’s TTIP rapporteur, told the press that, in his opinion, it was the Socialists’ quest for popularity that pushed them to block the TTIP vote.

“We have to decide what is more important in the end: giving the Commission our considered opinion on the subject, or gaining a few extra ‘likes’ on Facebook?”

The question remains unanswered.

Background

So far, nine TTIP negotiation cycles have taken place. The most recent was held in New York from 20 to 24 April.

In June 2013, the heads of state and the governments of the UE gave the Commission responsibility for negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, along with strict guidelines on how this should be accomplished.

Among these guidelines was the requirement that any agreement must include clauses on investment protection and dispute settlement between investors and states.

European countries have signed 1,400 trade agreements with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, some of which date back to the 1950s.

The EU executive carried out a public consultation into investment protection and the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP, whose aim was to establish whether or not the EU's approach respected the balance between investor protection and the EU's ability to legislate in the interest of its citizens.

The investment negotiations stalled in January 2014, and will only be revived when the Commission is satisfied that national courts will not be undermined by private tribunals.

The final decision must be ratified by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, but will be subject to approval by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who holds a veto on the subject. A note from the European executive offers the assurance that Frans Timmermans will ensure that ISDS conforms to the EU's principles of equality and transparency.

>> Read: LinksDossier: TTIP for dummies