from the something-rotten-in-the-state-of-Europe dept
One of the most glaring problems with TAFTA/TTIP is the lack of input from the public in whose name it is being negotiated. The great interest in providing feedback on the agreement can be seen from the one occasion when it was possible to voice an opinion -- the European Commission's consultation on the inclusion of a corporate sovereignty chapter. And yet, even though an unprecedented 150,000 responses were received -- the vast majority of which were against any kind of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) measures -- a top European politician recently announced that there are no plans to take ISDS out of CETA, the almost-finished trade agreement between the EU and Canada that represents a kind of warm-up for TAFTA/TTIP.
Since the European Commission refuses to take into account the public's views directly, people have turned to another mechanism to make their voices heard: a special kind of EU-wide petition called a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI). If sufficient signatures are obtained from around the EU, the European Commission is obliged to respond, but the bar to make that happen is set quite high:
One million signatures must be gathered within one year. Additionally, in seven EU states a specific minimum of supporters must be achieved, e.g. 72,000 signatures in Germany, 55,500 in France, or 54,750 in the United Kingdom. If the initiative succeeds in doing this, then the EU Commission organises a hearing in the EU Parliament, and concerns itself with the matter. The ECI citizen's committee then finally receives a written response from the Commission. If the Commission decides to present a legal act, then this is is passed on to the European Council and to the European Parliament.
That information comes from a new site set up by the Stop TTIP Alliance, a pan-EU coalition that aims to seek support for the following petition:
We invite the European Commission to recommend to the Council to repeal the negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and not to conclude the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Before signatures can be solicited, an ECI must first be registered with the European Commission. As a precaution, the Stop TTIP Alliance took legal advice to ensure that its petition met the requirements of the ECI. Despite that, the European Commission has just refused the registration request, which means the petition cannot go ahead as planned. Although that came as a complete surprise, the organizers of the ECI certainly aren't giving up -- on the contrary:
"Now the battle really begins," said Michael Efler, contact person of the ECI, which currently represents almost 230 organizations from 21 EU countries. "The rejection of the ECI only confirms the Commission's strategy to exclude citizens and parliaments from the TTIP and CETA negotiations. Instead of paying attention to citizens, it is just lobbyists that are being listened to."
The group offered some comments on the contrived legalistic justification offered by the European Commission for refusing to allow the petition to proceed. For example, the Commission claimed that the negotiating mandates for both TTIP and CETA were not "legal acts", as required for a petition, but "internal preparatory acts". Efler says:
"If the Commission’s legal opinion had any substance, then in plain English this would mean that Europe's population is excluded from participation in the development of any kind of international agreements -- information that is as frightening as it is scandalous."
The European Commission also tried to claim that it couldn't make "negative ratification proposals", but the Stop TTIP group points out:
"this means that citizens can only applaud international negotiations carried out by the Commission, but not criticize them,” said Efler.
Against this background, the Stop TTIP group is considering whether to begin legal action against the European Commission, including taking its case to the EU Court of Justice. After, all, this is not just about a European petition, but about European democracy, as one of the main organizers of the Stop TTIP ECI, John Hillary, writes:
There is something rotten in the state of Europe when an unelected, unaccountable EU body can glibly inform millions of us that we no longer have the right to question its most dangerous and unpopular policies.
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The ruling is a slap in the face for the 230 civil society organisations from across Europe that have lined up behind the initiative, and the millions of European citizens they represent. The ECI is the only vehicle available to us to challenge the shadowy bureaucrats of the European Commission. Now even this seems to be too much scrutiny for them.