TTIP: How the European Parliament lost the trust of 2 million citizens

Update of an article published in June

They did it. On Wednesday, the Members of the European Parliament officially adopted their position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. And at the same time, lost all their credibility in the eyes of the citizens.

436 in Favour, 241 Against, 32 Abstentions. That’s the result of the final vote on the resolution as a whole. However, the Parliament did not just vote on its recommendations to the Commission, but also on its own image in the eyes of the citizens. The TTIP vote, and more specifically the Investor-State Dispute Settlement part, was in fact a confidence vote for the EP. And the EP lost.

Because yes, in the end, there is an ISDS in the text. Oh of course, it’s not the big ISDS monster that scared the defenders of States’ sovereignty anymore. The mechanism has been softened and we now have a text which proposes to « replace the ISDS system with a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states which is subject to democratic principles and scrutiny, where potential cases are treated in a transparent manner by publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings […] ».  Complete text here.

Sure, there’s an improvement (let’s be fair). We’re now hoping to see publicly appointed independent judges. But it’s still pretty much an ISDS, without saying it is one. The spirit is still the same. An exaggeration? Wait to see Chevron sue France for its refusal to exploit its shale gas resources and we’ll talk about it…

By approving this “new system”, the MEPs who supported it (447 of them) have definitively lost the confidence of all the citizens who refuse ISDS and who’ve expressed it loudly. 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 97% of them. Not to mention the 2.3 million people who signed the anti-TTIP petition. That’s a lot of potential electors.

A decreasing electorate

It is 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 ISDS 2.0, the MEPs have just lost 2.3 million additional 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 negotiations, 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!

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, could MEPs really afford to take such a risk? After last week, why would all the opponents to ISDS bother to vote in 2019? Their opinion is not 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 and defended 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 negotiations, especially the ISDS part, were perhaps the ultimate test of trust and credibility in the eyes of the citizens. The MEPs missed their chance on Wednesday. They’ll have another one during the vote on the final agreement, at the end of the negotiation process with the United States. But the preservation of EU standards and the fairness, or transparency, of ISDS are not the only things at stake here. The legitimacy of the entire Parliament is threatened as well, should the MEPs take the wrong decision.

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