The European Parliament’s trade committee has signalled its opposition to an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
ISDS is controversial because it allows corporations to sue governments in international arbitration tribunals, bypassing national courts.
“A state-to-state dispute settlement system and the use of national courts are the most appropriate tools to address investment disputes,” according to a working document prepared by Bernd Lange, a German Socialist and the committee chairman.
The paper will feed into a draft report of MEPs’ recommendations to the European Commission. It is subject to change, but points to the committee’s possible position on the EU-US trade deal. Lange is the lead MEP on the report.
The Socialist and Democrats are not all opposed to ISDS, although group president Gianni Pittella has called for it to be ditched. The S&D will prove influential on the final decision, as it is the second largest group in the Parliament, and its MEPs are not as entrenched in their support or opposition as the other groups.
Lange’s report should contribute to the “fresh start” in the negotiations, now that the new Juncker Commission is in place, and after the midterm elections in the US, the draft said.
If ISDS provisions were included in TTIP, “further reforms to the current model are critical” to avoid problems that have hit existing free trade agreements, the document said.
“Investors abroad have to be treated in a non-discriminatory fashion and should have a fair opportunity […] to achieve redress of grievances. This can be attained in TTIP without the inclusion of ISDS provisions,” according to the draft.
The full European Parliament will eventually vote on the TTIP. A majority of MEPs will have to back the free trade agreement for it to come into force.
Lange has called for ISDS to be dropped from TTIP. Opponents argue that the clause has a chilling effect on regulation and will whittle away standards and regulations across a range of policies from the environment to food safety to social protection.
The US is keen for ISDS to be included in the final deal. But in January 2014, the Commission took it off the negotiating table after public criticism.
It set up an online ISDS consultation, which, from March to July, attracted about 150,000 replies. That is thought to be the highest number of responses to any Commission consultation.
Consultation analysis expected
At the time, the executive said it would analyse the replies before explaining the next steps it would take.
The Commission is expected to publish the results of the consultation this week, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.
88% of the participants told the EU executive they did not want ISDS included in the final pact, it said, citing a leaked document.
The consultation was built around twelve issues, including the scope of the investment protection provisions, transparency in ISDS, multiple claims and relationship to domestic courts, ensuring consistency of rulings and the appeal mechanism, and reducing the risk of frivolous cases.
The last question in the 44 page questionnaire asked respondents if they thought ISDS should be included.
Friends of the Earth Europe and other campaigners created easy to use online tools “to open up the process to the European public. But they are now concerned the executive will ignore the majority of the submissions (97%) because they were too similar.
“The complexity of the questions asked and the technical knowledge necessary to answer them represented a significant barrier for citizens to voice their concerns about ISDS,” Friends of the Earth Europe said. “It appears that the European Commission is attempting to downplay the overwhelming opposition to ISDS that their consultation found.”