EU Consultation On Corporate Sovereignty In TAFTA/TTIP Shows 145,000 Against It; European Commission Carries On Anyway
from the not-listening dept
As Techdirt has been reporting for a while, corporate sovereignty chapters have emerged as one of the most worrying aspects of trade agreements. Concerns about the inclusion of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism in TAFTA/TTIP became so acute in the EU that the European Commission was forced to hold a consultation on the subject last year in an attempt to assuage growing fears. We pointed out at the time that this was a sham, since all it offered was the option to comment on a few minor revisions to the ISDS mechanism: it was not designed to allow the public to express their views on the idea itself.
People went ahead and used the opportunity to convey their rejection of the imposition of corporate sovereignty provisions anyway. The publication of the European Commission’s analysis of the ISDS consultation (pdf) confirms just how complete that refusal is. Here’s a summary from the accompanying press release:
The vast majority of replies, around 145,000 (or 97%), were submitted through various on-line platforms of interest groups, containing pre-defined, negative answers. In addition, the Commission received individual replies from more than 3,000 individuals and some 450 organisations representing a wide spectrum of EU civil society, including NGOs, business organisations, trade unions, consumer groups, law firms and academics. These replies generally go into more detail on the proposed approach.
As well as the unanimity of the rejection, what is striking is the fact that 145,000 citizens replied to a consultation on an obscure aspect of trade agreements that most people had never heard of a year ago. That alone bespeaks an unprecedented engagement by the public — something rare enough at a time when people are generally disenchanted with politicians and their grand projects. And yet instead of celebrating this incredible interest from the public, here’s how the European Commission’s report chose to frame things:
It was possible to ascertain that a very large number of replies (around 145.000) were submitted collectively through various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These organisations provided pre-defined answers which respondents adhered to. These NGOs made available dedicated on-line platforms or software, often with pre-prepared answers, permitting the loading of replies directly into the database of the public consultation, thus making it possible to submit very significant numbers of replies in a short amount of time.
In other words, the Commission clearly implies, those 145,000 replies were more or less cheating, because they used “pre-defined answers” to make things easier, and thus shouldn’t really be treated as seriously as individual and unique contributions that required many days work by highly-paid lobbyists. That attitude betrays once more the inherent bias in these consultations, which are aimed at companies and their PR machines, not at the general public, whose views are rarely sought, and even more rarely listened to.
And that’s the case with this corporate sovereignty consultation. Declaring that it was not meant to be a “referendum” on ISDS, the European Commission is responding by organizing yet more consultations:
In the first quarter of 2015, the Commission will organise a number of consultation meetings with EU governments, the European Parliament, and different stakeholders, including NGOs, business, trade unions, consumer and environment organisations, to discuss investment protection and ISDS in TTIP on the basis of this report.
This is the old technique of repeatedly asking a question until you get the answer you want. It confirms that the consultation was never seriously intended to solicit people’s views, but was mere window-dressing, and undertaken in the hope that the general public would be too bored or confused by the technical questions posed to take part.
But this reckoned without two factors. The first is the Internet, which has allowed NGOs and other campaigners to provide tools that make it much easier for the public to understand and participate in complex discussions. That’s why the European Commission singles out this aspect for scorn: it represents a very serious threat to the cosy old way of doing things, as the Net-driven rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012 showed most dramatically.
The other factor that the Commission overlooked was that people now understand that TAFTA/TTIP is not a typical trade agreement about tweaking tariffs. Instead, it represents an ambitious attempt to re-mold society on both sides of the Atlantic by changing regulatory norms and processes. Unlike tariffs, regulations are largely cultural, and so “harmonizing” them is about imposing cultural change from without. ISDS is part of that: it is a way for companies to challenge and shape national law-making through the use of supranational courts.
The massive rejection of corporate sovereignty by huge numbers of Europeans in the ISDS consultation is a warning to the European Commission that such anti-democratic actions are unacceptable, and that if it wants to avoid another ACTA fiasco, it had better drop ISDS from TAFTA/TTIP sooner rather than later.