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.

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Filed Under: corporate sovereignty, eu, eu commission, isds, tafta, ttip


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 1:42am

    The opinion and tone of techdirt between this article and the one on a data analysis of FCC comments is interesting: This one basically says that it shouldn't matter that most of the letters were form letter. That one dismisses all the anti-net-neutrality form letters. I know there are a bunch of subtleties (mostly regarding the analysis of the FCC comments) that I'm skipping over, but I find it interesting the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 1:51am

      Re:

      The other article doesn't seem to be dismissing form letters, but rather pointing out that outside of form letters, the number of anti-net neutrality comments submitted were basically non-existent.

      The relevant quote from that article:

      The analysis shows that about 50% of the comments came from templates (again, many of them coming from "pro net neutrality") folks, but it's fascinating to see that once you get outside of the form letters, the number of anti-net neutrality letters basically doesn't register.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 4:25am

      Personalized = valid?

      Frustrating, because yes, I'd like to dismiss the anti-neutrality "template respondents" as not valid... but that's because of my personal opinions and raging cynicism.

      In the US, even the pre-Internet US, the time-honored method of registering support or opposition has been a prewritten form letter addressed to "The Hon. ________"... fill in the blanks. Or worse yet, one old measure was "the White House switchboard"; you'd dial a publicly-available number and tell an operator what you thought of such-and-such a policy, and she or he would presumably stroke-count it and pass that on to policymakers. And the strokes all looked exactly alike... insufficiently personalized to be considered valid?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:14am

    'Now, as we strip you of your rights, we would like to assure you that we will not take away your rights'

    From the summary/press release:

    “We need to have an open and frank discussion about investment protection and ISDS in TTIP with EU governments, with the European Parliament and civil society before launching any policy recommendations in this area. This will be the first immediate step following the publication of this report.I also note that there were constructive proposals in the consultation on areas that can be reformed. We will have a close look at them in the course of the dialogue. Furthermore, we need to reflect upon how to address the fact that EU countries already have 1400 bilateral agreements of this kind, of which some date back to the 50s”, added Malmström.

    "The vast majority of these agreements do not include the kind of guarantees that the EU would like to see. This will also have to be an important element of our reflection when considering how to best deal with the question of investment protection in EU agreements, as failure to replace them by more advanced provisions will mean they remain in force – with all the legitimate concerns they have been raising over the last months", the Commissioner highlighted.

    “And let me be clear: the TTIP that the European Commission will negotiate and present for ratification will be an agreement that is good for citizens – good for growth and jobs here in Europe. It will be an agreement which strengthens Europe’s influence in the world, and which would help us protect our strict standards. The European Commission would never even consider an agreement which would lower our standards or limit our governments' right to regulate. Neither would EU Member States, nor the European Parliament”, said Cecilia Malmström.


    I'm not sure if it's intentional, willful ignorance, or if they really cannot understand how bad corporate sovereignty is for countries and the people in them, but either way, they seem to treat it as an 'education' issue, where if people were just smarter, they'd understand how good and necessary such provisions are(despite trade working fine without them so far).

    The funny thing is, it's a lack of education that they seem to be banking on to convince people. It's all well and good to tell people that corporate sovereignty would never 'lower our standards or limit our government's right to regulate', and that might even convince people... until they educate themselves regarding the subject.

    Corporate sovereignty clauses have, are, and will lower standards and prohibit governments from passing regulations, by hanging massive 'fines' over the heads of government should they decide to try and do their gorram job, if doing so costs a corporation profit or even 'projected' profits.

    That is pretty much their entire purpose, protection of corporate profits, at the expense of a government to 'interfere' with those profits. Whether that interference is 'fair' or 'reasonable' is up for debate on a case by case basis, but to claim that corporate sovereignty clauses aren't meant to hamstring governments, when that is their purpose, is just flat out dishonest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 3:11am

      Re: 'Now, as we strip you of your rights, we would like to assure you that we will not take away your rights'

      If you can't enact awful laws inside because the peasants will mount a feeble resistance then work from the outside then when the plebs complain just throw hands in the air and claim "globalization".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:34am

    Pre-defined

    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...

    I bet they used pre-defined words as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:48am

      Re: Pre-defined

      Yeah it's bad when the public does it, but perfectly acceptable to codify predefined words by large corporation lobbyists into law or trade agreements or to use them as talking points.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    citizen of EU, 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:41am

    Interesting. My aswers were created by me only, and IIRC to answer for THAT one you got one hour timelimit.
    Aaand there is still very heavyduty distrust on anything that members of EUParl declares=P

    Wonder Why?

    citizen of EU

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 3:46am

    If the normal way does not work there is always the old fashioned way as much as we would all like to avoid that.

    That's the question though, do you roll over and accept what's taken from you or fight to keep it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 16 Jan 2015 @ 4:06am

    Come again?

    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.

    That's how democracies and parties work.

    Elections are not discarded because a large number of respondents fills out a large number of votes with predetermined choices.

    The question is why nobody flocked to the collection sites of the TTIP proponents.

    If 97% choose a platform that they feel represents their voice well, that's certainly valid. It is the foundation of party systems: providing a focus and rallying point for the voters' interest.

    So what's the problem here? That democratic representative procedures happen to work as intended?

    I can imagine that to be a problem to the European Council and Committee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 6:42am

      Re: Come again?

      So what's the problem here? That democratic representative procedures happen to work as intended?

      I can imagine that to be a problem to the European Council and Committee.


      Yeah, the 'problem' is that at least 97% of the people answered 'wrong', they were supposed to be submitting comments absolutely gushing about how awesome corporate sovereignty laws/clauses are, not have the gall to object to the shit sandwich the government is trying to serve them.

      I can guarantee, if it had gone the other way, and that 97% had been in favor of corporate sovereignty clauses, the committee would have been declaring that it was proof that everyone absolutely loved the proposed clauses, and they would have completely ignored the 'pre-written' nature of the submissions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 5:25am

    Sad

    I wish there was a lobby for citizens. You pay them a monthly or yearly fee and they act on behalf of the citizens. That would be great.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 16 Jan 2015 @ 5:29am

      Re: Sad

      It's called "government". But it does not exactly come cheap.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: Sad

        Does it come at all?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 6:36am

        Re: Re: Sad

        It also seems to be incredible buggy, only rarely managing that 'act on behalf of citizens' feature.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 16 Jan 2015 @ 10:00am

        Re: Re: Sad

        That's supposed to be the government, yes, but in the US it's not the case. The governmental bodies that are theoretically representing the citizens are actually representing large corporations. In my opinion, ordinary citizens are largely without representation in the US federal government, and the US government cannot act as an effective proxy for us.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:38pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sad

          "The governmental bodies that are theoretically representing the citizens are actually representing large corporations."

          So, what's wrong with that? That's the way capitalism works!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 7:20am

    EU System

    Please forgive my ignorance of how the EU political system works, but just who tells the EU Commission what to do? Do they report to the Parliament, whomever is the current 'top dog', the people?

    Or maybe a better question would be how are they chosen, appointment (and by whom), or election? And what is the term of office?

    I know that checks and balances are breaking down here in the US, but the EU system is fairly new, and I was under the impression that checks and balances were part of that deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 8:30am

      Re: EU System

      EU commission is not a democratic organ. It is a semipolitical and semiadministrative organ with veto-power.

      The commission is chosen by the governments in the different countries and "accepted" by the parliament and the council. The choices are mostly politician friends, with absolutely zero knowledge of the administrative area they are going to control. The commission is where any EU "law" is created, mostly by the administration. Then the proposal is negotiated with the parliament and the appropriate councils COREPER. In that process the commissioner has a veto in that he/she can withdraw proposed "laws". That enormous power is what has caused lobbyists to start their work with these guys in several cases and there has been more than one commissioner suspected of taking bribes, though the evidence has been insufficient to convict.

      The EU system is evolving too fast and is by far too complex for the appropriate checks and balances to really start to work before they are circumvented. On the other hand, the complexity is also making it extremely expensive to corrupt in most places, so there is that! While most of the politicians are nice people and most parliamentarians are very eager to learn about the common peoples opinions, they are extremely fragmented (751 parliamentarians representing 248 parties arranged in 7 loosely coordinated groups - yes I know they vote pretty commonly as a cohesive party, but that policy is decided on brown nose points and sanctions against "traitors" in specific cases) and easy to play divide and conquer on for industry lobbyists.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2015 @ 8:24am

    2015 is shaping up to be one of the worst years of government overreach with all thats happening in january alone

    15 years wow, 15 years already of this chapter

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 16 Jan 2015 @ 11:38am

    A few large multinational corporations send you a few dozen lobbyists with pre-defined law: automatic approval of the law, claim broad support.

    97% of a diverse public body sends you a pre-defined negative answer to the proposed corporate law: automatic rejection of the answer, claim a few "non-governmental" organizations rigged the process.

    I suppose if you don't even bother to hide the corruption in the system anymore you can claim you're being more transparent than ever before, just not in a good way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 16 Jan 2015 @ 2:45pm

    All those Euros are identical

    We should ignore those highly-paid lobbyists because every one of the Euros that they were paid was identical to the all the others and conformed to a standard laid down by a small number of issuing banks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan G Difino, 17 Jan 2015 @ 10:10am

    Corporations On Sovereignty

    The thought of giving these greedy bastards who daily are fleecing the populations, polluting every media medium with constant, relentless and repeating advertising in our face and in our ears, who spy on us with their countless spy satellites, who also make weapons and provide all sides with communications and banking and generically feed everyone with the same fast food hamburgers and who are already lobbying the crap out of Washington DC for more regulations to allow them to become even more obscenely wealthy and driving public policy, testing each government's metal until every human being is on their knees praying to them for mercy makes me want to deficate and puke chunks and blow snot out of my nose and just shake uncontrollably until all my loose dead skin cells fall off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 17 Jan 2015 @ 7:13pm

    To be honest or be dishonest, that is the question...

    "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 (1) had better drop ISDS from TAFTA/TTIP sooner rather than later."

    or...

    That (2) they should go back to 100% secrecy and completely eliminate all public involvement, until after all such legislations are already put into effect and cannot be undone by the Adversary.

    My guess is that they'll take the second route.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Jan 2015 @ 5:24am

      Re: To be honest or be dishonest, that is the question...

      'Go back to'? Unless I've missed something, they never stopped the secrecy, they just recently upped pretending about how 'transparent' they are, and how much they're 'listening' to the public and getting the public involved in the process.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        GEMont (profile), 18 Jan 2015 @ 5:39pm

        Re: Re: To be honest or be dishonest, that is the question...

        You're right of course. "Go back" was the wrong term.

        Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of not telling the public that any trade agreements are being negotiated anywhere, ever.

        Do it all Harper's Canadian Style, behind the scenes with payoffs to all the media and any political opposition using tax payer's money.

        By simply doing all these phony Free Trade deals entirely behind the scenes, with the public completely unaware that they are even taking place, the crooks can ratify their new legalized theft, extortion, and protection laws and start robbing the public legally in new and imaginative ways year after year and the public won't be able to say squat because they are totally unaware of how such laws even got created in the first place.

        You know the drill - have the NSA DOS any "Unauthorized" website that posts anything relating to any "Trade Agreement" data ASAP, and spin the whole thing as "for the children", "for jobs", and "for the economy" on all the regular corporate BS NEWS nets if anyone does spill the beans to the public about an ongoing trade deal.

        By using the paid-for corporate BS Media, they can then make sure the public believes that this one secret deal that was leaked, was an isolated event and none others are taking place. Then tell the sheep that that particular deal has been cancelled while simply renaming the agreement and carrying on in secret once again.

        Today there is far too much public awareness of the process and the purpose behind the process, even though the general public is already kept in the dark about the actual text of the "negotiations" and the corporate (United States of Hollywood) authoring process that passes for lawmaking, until someone leaks some parts of the deal and the public gets partly into the loop.

        By going full secret, Canadian Style, the world can be made into a better place for exploiting the sheep effortlessly and with guaranteed returns and with far fewer bumps and bruises along the way from interference by uppity peasants.

        ---

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Dalton A. Johnson, 5 Jun 2015 @ 2:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: To be honest or be dishonest, that is the question...

          Hello. Could you please contact me somehow concerning sovereignty, the strawman, the Moors, the Constitutution, etc. I have some very important questions. You appear intelligent and seem to have the ability to answer those questions and enlighten me on very important issues. I ask this of you on account of the only person I know of who is informed enough to do so is currently incarcerated. Your response will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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