from the what's-plan-b,-again? dept
Back in May, we wrote about the European Commission's attempt to put lipstick on the corporate sovereignty pig. Its attempt to "reform" the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system was largely driven by the massive rejection of the whole approach by respondents to the Commission's consultation on the subject last year. Of the 150,000 people who took the trouble to respond, 145,000 said they did not want corporate sovereignty provisions of any kind. Even the European Commission could not spin that as a mandate for business as usual, and so it came up with what it called a "path for reform" (pdf). By promising to solve the all-too evident "problems" of corporate sovereignty by coming up with something it claimed was better, its evident plan was to include this re-branded ISDS as part of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations with the US.
The "path for reform" starts from some tinkering with a few elements of the basic ISDS approach that leaves the basic idea untouched, and moves towards something slightly more radical -- a permanent court for settling investor-state disputes:
The EU should pursue the creation of one permanent court. This court would apply to multiple agreements and between different trading partners, also on the basis of an opt-in system. The objective would be to multilateralise the court either as a self-standing international body or by embedding it into an existing multilateral organization. Work has already begun on how to start this process, in particular on aspects such as architecture, organisation, costs and participation of other partners.
The European Commission probably thought this was a pretty clever move: head off objections to ISDS and its ad-hoc tribunals by recasting it as a permanent court of a more traditional kind. There's just one slight problem with this idea: according to the respected German newspaper Die Welt, the US rejects it completely (original in German):
There's no question of such a [judicial] authority. The US will not tolerate interference in its national sovereignty.
That's a rather ironic viewpoint, given that ISDS already interferes with national sovereignty. Assuming that Die Welt's source is trustworthy, the US attitude may well arise from the fact that it has never lost an ISDS case, and perhaps believes, somewhat naively, that it never will. That seems unlikely: if TAFTA/TTIP includes corporate sovereignty, more than 3,400 parent corporations in EU nations, owning more than 24,200 subsidiaries in the US, will suddenly gain the right to sue the US government using the mechanism, in connection with any of their past, present or future investments there.
Whatever its reasoning, a refusal by the US to countenance the creation of a new permanent court dealing with investment disputes leaves the European Commission's TTIP strategy on this point in tatters. It will be interesting to see whether it now begins to row back from the idea of creating a completely new court, and starts extolling the virtues of a slightly "reformed" ISDS instead.