Delayed TTIP vote drives wedge between grand coalition

Bernd Lange's report on TTIP received 200 amendments. [Unión Europea en Perú/Flickr]

The European Parliament has postponed a vote and debate on the transatlantic trade negotiations that were due to take place today (10 June). MEPs say this decision reflects the shortcomings of the “grand coalition” between the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats groups in the Parliament. EURACTIV France reports

The European Parliament was supposed to vote on a non-binding resolution on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on Wednesday 10 June.

But the institution’s president, Martin Schulz, decided otherwise. He called off the vote on Tuesday, on the pretext that the number of amendments (200) was excessive.

The Lange report, which was adopted by the Committee on International Trade (INTA) on 28 May, has been heavily modified as members from all the political groups try to reflect growing public opposition to the trade deal.

Public opposition played down by political groups

“At this stage, positions for or against TTIP are nothing but dogmatic prejudice. We must not think in terms of for and against,” said Gianni Pitella, the President of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in Parliament.

This view is shared by Franck Proust, a French member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group, who said that accusing TTIP of certain wrongs when it has yet to be implemented was “a doctrinal position”.

Thought the two MEPs appear to agree on the issue, they face major dissent from within their respective groups.

>> Read: France’s Socialists say ‘non’, ‘no’, ‘nein’! to TTIP

The S&D group is following the lead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, but has faced rebellion every step of the way, especially on the question of dispute settlement.

The EPP and S&D groups have both submitted amendments on the subject, which foresee the replacement of commercial tribunals with public tribunals when disputes arise.

Franck Proust believes the two groups are aligned on the issue. “Mathias Fekl [French secretary of state for foreign trade] has echoed our position on the subject. We are now completely in agreement.”

>> Read: Matthias Fekl: ‘The EU should have its own arbitration court’

Radical opponents reject all arbitration

But for many MEPs within the S&D group, and in the Greens and the radical left, this is not an acceptable solution.

“We do not see eye to eye. This is not a viable solution. Creating a new tribunal will not solve the problem of inappropriate nominations. This is simply a rehash of Malmström’s previous proposals,” said Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts.

TTIP’s opponents put the postponement of the vote down to the growing mobilisation against the treaty.

The postponement of this routine vote, followed by the cancellation of the debate, has exposed deep cracks in the “grand coalition” between the EPP and S&D, which is notionally in control of the European Parliament.

French Green MEP Yannick Jadot said, “President Schulz has abused his position to delay a vote that he fears, and that is dividing the two main groups, the EPP and the S&D.”

The S&D rapporteur on the resolution, Bernd Lange, said he would nonetheless “continue talks with all the political groups to try and gain the broadest possible support for our position”.

TTIP has provided the European Parliament’s groups with leverage for their political positions.

“We need to exist, to be heard this parliament needs to demonstrate and to bang its fists on the table over such an important subject,” said Pervenche Berès, the head of the French socialist delegation. In a similar vein, Franck Proust told his delegation to “submit 50 amendments to the report” in order to prove how influential they can be.

Increasingly regular opposition

A year on from the European elections, many socialists believe the coalition has failed. Relations have soured with the bloc’s left wing, who toed the line for the election of the new European Commission, but have been uneasy partners ever since.

“We simply do not agree on macro-economic questions. We see this with Greece, with TTIP, with the Juncker Plan,” said S&D MEP Guillaume Balas.

Consensus has become the exception, rather than the rule. The coalition was unable to stop rebellions on conflict minerals, the Noichl report on gender equality or the Commission’s work programme.

The coalition’s rebels would clearly prefer to form alliances with more closely aligned parties. Guillaume Balas said “We get on more easily with the Greens and the radical left. It would be easier to form an alliance with them in order to reach compromises that work”.

ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt said “Socialists pretend to fight for employment, but by delaying the vote on TTIP they endanger the jobs that a free trade agreement will create. This behaviour damages the reputation of this Parliament. My recommendation to them is to develop their own, internal dispute mechanism.”

S&D rapporteur and EP Trade Committee chair Bernd Lange said “We respect President Schulz's decision and will continue the work on the TTIP-resolution in the Trade Committee. We will use the additional time we gained to work towards reaching a stable majority for the TTIP-resolution. The EP can only come forward with a strong message for the TTIP negotiators if our resolution is supported by a broad majority.”

The French Republicans, members of the EPP group, said “This decision is a clear demonstration of the confusion that reigns within the S&D group, which went back on the compromise reached by the Committee on International Trade. This division of the socialists, who are incapable of finding a common position, is taking the European Parliament hostage and has weakened a crucial text.”

The Greens/EFA trade spokesman Yannick Jadot said “EP president Schulz has pulled a fast one and used an underhand administrative procedure to postpone tomorrow's vote and prevent these divisions from being put on the record, notably as regards the highly contentions ISDS investor protection mechanism. This division within the European Parliament on TTIP is a major turnaround from the last time MEPs voted on the issue 2 years ago and shows that the significant and mounting public pressure is bearing fruit. It is important that this pressure from the public and civil society is maintained.

European Conservatives and Reformists Group trade spokesman Emma McClarkin MEP, said “The decision to postpone this vote is very disappointing. The parliament was ready to vote on its position but President Schulz has pulled the vote in order to save the socialist group’s blushes. The socialists agreed a reasonable compromise position in the parliament’s trade committee but their leaders have failed to take their MEPs along with them. This is a socialist shambles that started when they backed out of agreements made in good faith. We will continue to argue that an EU-US trade deal has the potential to bring real benefits to consumers and small businesses across Europe. It is time for the socialists to tell us what they believe.”

The radical left GUE/NGL group said “This is a victory for the STOP TTIP movement which has succeeded in showing how this project could be damaging for people and for the EU because of the ISDS, because of Regulatory Cooperation and because of the proposal to liberalise services, amongst others.”

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, said, "I decided to postpone the vote on the TTIP resolution to give more time to the International Trade Committee to further reflect on the outstanding issues and to reduce as much as possible the large number of amendments tabled. I requested this to defend and advance the position of the European Parliament as a whole on a crucial issue.

"The Commission is negotiating an agreement of global importance with the United States. The European Parliament needs to contribute with a clear and unequivocal position. What we should have is a strong text by the European Parliament and what we should avoid is that Parliament adopts a resolution which is neither here or there, or, even worse, is not able to adopt a resolution.

"By failing to adopt a strong text on this dossier, the European Parliament would weaken its power on one of its key, hard-fought prerogatives. This morning, in accordance with Rule 152 of the Rules of Procedure, I put it to the plenary to decide democratically whether the members wanted to also postpone the debate on TTIP to move it closer to the vote and a majority of MEPs did so."

In June 2013, EU heads of state and governments gave the Commission responsibility for negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States.

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, to whom Jean-Claude Juncker gave the power of veto.

A not 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 our LinksDossier: TTIP for dummies

  • 13 to 17 July: Next round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels

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