In January, Labour MEPs called on the European Commission to provide alternatives to the inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), following its response to a Europe-wide public consultation.
Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, reports that Labour have secured the support of their colleagues in calling for the ISDS clause to be removed from the EU-US trade deal.
The controversial ISDS clause of the TTIP would allow private companies to sue governments if they felt that a decision or law impacted on their ability to make profit. It will now be opposed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, which Labour MEPs are a part of.
On the 4 March, the S&D group in the European Parliament decided to oppose ISDS in an almost unanimous vote. The proposal was supported by 78 votes to five against. The adopted position was drafted by Labour MEP David Martin, who is the group co-ordinator on trade issues.
The S&D working group was headed by UK Labour Party MEPs including David Martin (chair), Jude Kirton-Darling (spokesperson on TTIP and CETA – The Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement: the negotiated EU-Canada treaty) and Richard Corbett (Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament).
David Martin said: “We have always been opposed to ISDS as a group, although we didn’t have a chance to adopt a formal decision on this matter since the last European elections in 2014. In doing so today, we are responding to the thousands of constituents and the many civil society organisations that have asked us to clarify our position.”
Jude Kirton-Darling added: “This decision … will prove to be a real game-changer, not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also with respect to the ratification of the Canada agreement.
The European Commission and Europe’s Conservatives will need our support in the end if they want to see TTIP through. Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message that we can only contemplate support if our conditions are met. One such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP.”
Richard Corbett said: “Today the Labour Party has demonstrated that engaging with our neighbours across the EU yields tangible results in the interest of the general public. Labour were instrumental in securing this outcome, and this is a tribute to the hard work, commitment and resolve of Labour MEPs.”
Glenis Willmott summarised : “This decision by the S&D group will be a real game changer not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also for the approval of a trade agreement with Canada. The European Commission and centre-right group in the Parliament will need our support if they want to see TTIP through.
“Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message we can only support it if private tribunals are left out of TTIP. Labour has proven that engaging with our neighbours gets real results in the public interest. We were instrumental in getting this agreement and we will continue to stand up for the NHS and our public services.”
This is an excellent achievement. The ISDS contradicts principles of democratic accountability and would potentially allow one government to bind another for decades to come. Unlike the great majority of other treaties, investment treaties have very long minimum lifespans ranging up to 30 years.
Much debate has arisen concerning the impact of controversial ISDS on the capacity of governments to implement reforms and legislative and policy programs related to public health, environmental protection, labour and human rights.
It’s been of particular worry that the current Tory-led mass privatisation process has been a total failure. In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. We have witnessed scandalous price-rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. This is because the Tories will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not public needs, as we know.
In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State.”
Where the ISDS has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big global corporations, already with too much power, to sue Governments in front of secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass our domestic courts and override the decisions of parliaments and interests of citizens.
Not that this would be a particular issue of concern in the case of the UK, with the current Government always favouring policies that promote the interests of such powerful businesses, anyway.
But this mechanism would also remove any chance whatsoever of public interests being a consideration in the decision-making process. In short, it would bypass what remains of our democratic process completely. And it would bind subsequent governments.
Worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation process into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to “free trade.” And to reiterate, it would be carried out behind closed doors. Corporates can go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of “free trade” and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.
The Labour Party understand that no matter how economically beneficial the Conservatives have claimed the TTIP to be, potentially, such serious threats posed by the ISDS clause to civil rights, citizen well-being and democracy are untenable.