Taking its anti-democratic approach to a whole new level.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
After years of tireless scheming behind hermetically closed doors, the time is almost due for the European Commission to give the respective national parliaments of the EU’s 28 Member States a chance to vote on the proposed trade agreement with Canada, the so-called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). At long last, a secret agreement that received absolutely no input from the general public and a heck of a lot of input from the world’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists will be presented to and voted on by Europe’s elected representatives.
Or at that was the plan.
Ever since it began negotiating trade agreements like CETA, TTIP and TiSA, the Commission has repeatedly promised that when the proposed agreements were ready, it would let democracy take its course. But democracy and the latest generation of hyper-covert trade agreements are far from comfortable bedfellows, and the European Commission has already shown on numerous occasions a complete disregard for democratic process.
Lo and behold, last week a letter from the Italian minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda, to the EU commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, was obtained by the Italian “Stop TTIP Campaign,” and posted on its site. In the letter, the two discuss the possibility of Italy’s government coming to the Commission’s rescue and effectively blocking the parliaments of all the other countries from having their say on CETA.
“I would like to inform you that Italy, after a technical and political assessment, is ready to consider to support the Commission on the ‘EU only’ nature of (the) above-mentioned agreement,” Calenda wrote. The story was corroborated by an article published last week in Italy’s leading financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, which specifically mentions the government’s offer to block national votes.
As Glyn Moody notes in ArsTechnica, the national parliaments of the 28 member states could vote on CETA, but only if all EU governments demand it:
If Italy refuses to join with the other countries, the European Commission would be able to send the agreement to the Council of the European Union for approval, where a “qualified majority” would be enough for it to be passed.
It’s impossible to know exactly how the commission persuaded Italy’s government to do its dirty work, but suffice to say that the country’s crumbling banking system would provide some powerful leverage. As for its part in the secret deal, the Commission has good reason for wanting to bypass Europe’s 28 national parliaments: just one vote (out of 28) against the trade agreement would be enough to scupper a deal that has been seven years in the making and for which negotiations were concluded a year and a half ago.
Since then rising public and political opposition have forced the Commission to abandon the agreement’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which would allow companies to sue states before arbitral tribunals, in favor of a permanent international Investment Court System – ICS – to adjudicate conflicts between international investors and host states, with real judges and slightly more transparency.
There are also fears that if CETA is signed, it would not only constitute a precedent for similar arrangements within TTIP; it would also allow U.S. companies to sue EU states through Canadian subsidiaries, while providing an estimated annual boost to the European economy of 0.01% — a rounding error, at best!
One of the few countries to actually vote on the inclusion of the ISDS clause in CETA is France, in November 2014. Both chambers resoundingly rejected the proposal while also demanding that any eventual approval of CETA must be ratified not only by the EU Parliament but by the national parliaments of all 28 Member States.
If Calenda’s letter is any indication, the Commission has no intention of honoring such a commitment. Earlier this month the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also alleged that the Commission was planning to bypass national politicians by treating CETA as an “EU only” matter, putting it on “collision course” with EU member states:
The Commission wants the agreement with Canada not to be considered as a “mixed agreement,” but as a pure EU agreement. The Bundestag and Bundesrat would therefore have no say in the deal’s ratification. Nor would the parliaments of the other 27 EU member states….
The participation of national parliaments in the ratification of the agreement with the United States TTIP and its “little sister,” CETA, is one of the central planks of the public debate.
Despite — or perhaps because of — all the furore triggered by Greenpeace’s release last month of 248 pages of the draft text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which confirmed many of the worst fears of the deal’s biggest critics, the Commission appears to be determined to take its anti-democratic approach to a whole new level. Quite simply, it will do whatever it takes to crowbar these trade agreements into law.
This latest development is also a stark reminder of the underhand and oft-ignored role played by many national governments in Europe’s epic trade deal saga. In May a fresh leak by the Seattle to Brussels Network revealed that five EU governments had proposed to introduce investor-state dispute settlement for all cross-border investments within the EU. Those counties were Austria, Finland, the Netherlands (whose government is facing calls for a referendum on TTIP), France, and Germany, both of whose governments have repeatedly criticized ISDS — in public! Their actions in private belie a very different agenda. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
Bankers in Spain and Italy can breathe a sigh of relief after Europe’s finance ministers decided to postpone a decision about eligible “risk-free” bank capital past a possibly messy Brexit and elections in France and Germany. Read… Day of Reckoning for Banks in Italy, Spain, & Portugal Kicked Down the Road (Elegantly) for 18 Months