This article has been updated (in French) on the 9th of July. See new version here
Among all the fuss around the Parliament (postponed) vote in plenary, there’s one aspect of the TTIP worth mentioning. The Parliament will not only vote on its recommendations to the European Commission, but also on its own image in the eyes of the citizens. The TTIP vote, and more specifically the ISDS part, is in fact a confidence vote for the EP.
If the MEPs vote in favor of the Investor-Sate Dispute Settlement system, they will lose the trust of all the citizens who refuse it and who’ve expressed it loudly. No matter the type of ISDS (the current one or the reformed version proposed by Cecilia Malmström a few weeks ago; the latter being favored by the Trade Committee of the EP), the nearly 150.000 people who answered the public consultation on TTIP clearly stated that they don’t want this mechanism to be included in the agreement. At least most of them. Not to mention the 2.1 million people who signed the anti-TTIP petition. That’s a lot of potential electors.
Sure one could still argue that 2 million is nothing compared to 500 million of EU citizens. Lack of consideration put aside, we could answer that maybe the others just haven’t heard of the TTIP negotiation yet, or don’t understand exactly what it involves or what the ISDS is. After all, you need to know about the negotiation to search for these information. And you need to hear about the petition or public consultation to be able to answer it. So 2 million of signatories or 150.000 respondents doesn’t mean they’re the only ones against TTIP or ISDS…It just means they’re the most aware of it or concerned about it. Maybe the others simply haven’t been correctly informed about it yet…
But even if we only take 2 million of people, it’s still a lot of voters. It’s worth reminding that in 2014 we had the lowest turnout ever for a European election, with only 42.61% of EU citizens voting. By approving Investor-State Dispute Settlement in TTIP the MEPs would risk losing 2 million of votes. Yes these people are against TTIP as a whole, but ISDS is part of the major reasons to refuse it. Even if we can’t bet on the ending date of the negotiation, let alone the final approval of the agreement by the EP, we probably won’t see it before 2017, at least…That’s dangerously close to the next EU election. Such a big agreement won’t be forgotten by 2019. And anti EU parties will be more than happy to use it during their next campaign, especially if the agreement is voted with the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism!
So with the ever greater crisis of confidence that Europe is going through and the lack of democratic legitimacy (some might say accountability) of its institutions, can MEPs really afford to take such a risk? If they agree on ISDS in TTIP, why would all the opponents to this mechanism bother to vote in 2019? Their opinion would not be taken into account anyway…We’ll then go from 42.6% of voters to an even lower turnout. This would be a shame for the European Union and a loss of credibility on the international stage. It might even be another reason that would weakened Europe’s strength and position in global negotiations. Not to mention that these people won’t feel like their interests are represented anymore, therefore reinforcing the lack of democratic legitimacy and negative image of the EU institutions. Say hello to the vicious circle…
All in all, for the European Parliament the TTIP negotiation, mainly the ISDS part, might be the ultimate test of trust and credibility in the eyes of the citizens. The preservation of EU standards, the fairness and transparency of Investor-States Dispute Settlement are not the only things at stake here. The legitimacy of the entire Parliament is threatened as well, should the MEPs make the wrong decision.