The mother of all ironies.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Today’s generation of trade agreements seek to transfer key decision making powers and sovereignty from the traditional repositories of democracy, national parliaments, to the C-suites of the world’s biggest corporations.
In the mother of all ironies, to do that, they need national governments to sign along the dotted line, effectively voting themselves out of any meaningful existence. Although granting corporations full sovereignty rights – including the right to sue any government that threatens their ability to earn profits at literally any social, human or environmental cost – is explicitly endorsed by many national governments (including the U.S., the UK, Canada and Spain, to mention a few), not everyone is on board.
And as Britain’s vote to exit the EU just showed, democracy is a process that can be carefully managed; it can even be stage-managed, but it cannot be completely controlled.
That’s why the European Commission decided last week to renege on a promise it had repeatedly made to Europe’s citizens that it would consult the national parliaments of all Member States before ratifying game-changing trade agreements like the EU-US trade pact, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the EU-Canada trade pact, CETA. When it realized that it would be impossible to guarantee the desired outcome — i.e., a unanimously supported agreement — with such an approach, the Commission changed tack, designating CETA as a unilateral EU agreement, not as a “mixed agreement.”
The decision sparked an immediate outcry from a number of EU countries, including France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, all of whom demand a say for their respective parliaments on CETA’s ratification. This prompted the Juncker-led Commission to execute a wholly unexpected U-turn this Tuesday, announcing that national parliaments would, after all, have to ratify the pact.
On the surface the Commission’s latest volte-face is a mystifying move. Handing over the decision on whether to ratify the agreement to national parliaments makes it far more likely that CETA, an agreement that has been under negotiation for seven long years, is rejected. It could also derail the much more important, much more controversial TTIP.
“Public pressure has forced the European Commission into a humiliating climbdown as they have been prevented from denying a democratic vote on whether to accept the toxic EU-Canada trade deal, CETA,” gloated John Hilary, executive director at the anti-poverty organization War on Want.
The agreements’ supporters are as livid as its opponents are delighted. Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, told Politico that he was “shocked” how easily Brussels had surrendered its exclusive competence on trade. In a tweet, he described the Commission as “traitors, not guardians, of the treaty.”
As Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s trade minister, put it last month: “If the EU cannot do a deal with Canada, I think it is legitimate to say: Who the heck can it do a deal with?”
But what if it’s all a bluff? Or even worse, a carefully laid trap?
A cursory glance at the small print is all that’s needed to glimpse the Commission’s real agenda: to quietly, covertly pass the lion’s share of the agreement into law while everybody else celebrates its newfound respect for democracy.
Here’s more from Politico:
Despite losing the political battle to keep the approval procedure in Brussels, the commission insisted that the new ratification process would make little practical difference to the Canadian deal. One EU official noted that the accord would be implemented “provisionally” as soon as it received the green light from the European Parliament and governments represented at the Council…
“If a national parliament rejects the agreement — or in the Belgian case, even one of the regional chambers — that country can’t ratify the deal,” said Jan Wouters, professor of international law at the University of Leuven. “In consequence, there’s no official ratification. But that doesn’t legally oblige the Commission to stop the provisional application of the treaty.”
Applying the treaty “provisionally” would allow the EU to approve — and begin implementing — over 90% of the agreement’s provisions, even before the first national parliament casts its vote on the treaty. Those provisions include the creation of an international Investment Court System (ICS), a proposal that has already been unceremoniously trashed by the German Association of Judges, for having: a) no basis in law; b) no jurisdiction over European countries; and c) judges that are not remotely independent.
The only meaningful difference between ICS and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement System it’s supposed to replace is that instead of the prospect of having three private arbitrators (i.e. corporate attorneys) decide how many billions in taxpayer funds elected governments should pay out in compensation for daring to put the rights and interests of national citizens before the rights and interest of overseas corporations and investors, we can have a whole new, expensive international court system, paid for by global taxpayers, dedicated to doing exactly the same thing. Such a process would make a mockery of democratic rights on both sides of the Atlantic. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
The European Commission has learned absolutely ZERO from Brexit. Read… Desperately Trying to Salvage Canada-EU Trade Pact after Brexit, EU Escalates Assault on Democracy
Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:
Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.