The great TTIP debate that never was

TTIP Trojan Horse Image Source: greensefa, flickr, creative commons.

TTIP Trojan Horse
Image Source: greensefa, flickr, creative commons.

Strasbourg, France (NI) – Is TTIP now on the ropes? The US-EU trade deal known as TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is being dealt weekly setbacks at the moment, culminating in angry scenes in the European Parliament yesterday morning.

On one side of the Atlantic, President Obama seems to be losing his fight to get so-called ‘fast track’ authority through Congress. Without it, TTIP’s progress slows to a snail’s pace. Meanwhile in Strasbourg, the European Parliament was told it couldn’t vote on TTIP, after the pro-TTIP leadership feared it had lost control of the debate and risked being defeated on a crucial vote.

This is significant because these legislative battles represent the first time elected representatives have been given a chance to air their voices on TTIP since public disquiet started growing last year.

That’s how insulated these negotiations are from influence by ordinary people. All the more shocking then that Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, the unelected official who oversees the TTIP negotiations, seemed to think the debate was something worth laughing about on Twitter.

So what happened in Strasbourg?

The European Parliament was due to vote on a report from the Trade Committee. This tedious-sounding procedure had generated nearly 900 amendments in committee stage, with over 100 due to be voted on by the whole parliament yesterday.

Although the resolution was non-binding, this was the most significant parliamentary vote on TTIP to date. Given that the parliament will ultimately have to ratify the deal, this was the chance for representatives to lay out their red lines: ‘If this stays in, we vote down the whole deal.’

Ahead of the vote, campaigners announced that the Europe-wide petition against TTIP had reached a record-breaking 2 million signatures, opposing the deal outright. In London a group of celebrity artists, actors and designers launched a new group, Artists Against TTIP. MEPs themselves had received tens of thousands of emails.

Then, to the shock of dozens of MEPs, the vote was off on Tuesday afternoon. Leading socialist group MEPs Martin Schulz and Bernd Lange claimed there were ‘too many amendments’, but in reality they feared they were about to lose control of their own party bloc, where many MEPs, especially from the Labour Party, were ready to vote down important aspects of TTIP like the ‘corporate court’ mechanism known as ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement).

If the majority of the Socialists teamed up with the Greens, the Left bloc and the Eurosceptics, it would take only a few dissidents from other blocs to carry a really critical resolution. They couldn’t risk it. Working with the leadership of the Conservative, Liberal and centre-right blocs, Schulz and Lange closed down the debate.

On Wednesday morning, MEPs got up early to try to overturn the postponement. They came within 2 votes of doing so, amid what Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said were:

Incredibly, after saying she was ‘very disappointed’ about not having a debate, Emma McClarkin and other British Conservative MEPs voted against holding the debate yesterday morning, siding with the EU bureaucracy against parliament speaking on a vital trade deal which is a real threat to our sovereignty.

TTIP now goes back to the trade committee to find a way forward. This is unlikely to resolve anything, as all blocs have enough to maintain their amendments when it next comes to the floor of parliament, presumably in September. The EU establishment hopes this will allow enough time for the big business lobbyists and the party apparatchiks to bribe and bully MEPs into dropping their resolve. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Take action by emailing your MEPs.

Written by Nick Dearden. Nick Dearden is Director of Global Justice Now. This is a slightly modified version of a post which appeared on the Global Justice Now website on 10 June. This version is being hosted by The New Internationalist.