Our main take-aways from the postponement of the TTIP vote and the analysis of the positions and constraints of the political forces:
– the postponement of the vote was mainly a political, rather than a technical decision;
– a strong majority in favour of TTIP is still there, a narrow one for ISDS too;
– negotiations are unlikely to be finalised within the timeline wished by Jean Claude Juncker, i.e. the end of 2015.
On 10 June, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were supposed to vote their views on how and what the Commission should negotiate with the US government within the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investments partnership (TTIP). However, the vote was postponed, the official reason invoked being that there were simply too many amendments and requests for separate votes, which would have made the voting session lengthy and difficult to follow by the MEPs.
The postponement was decided formally by the EP President, Martin Schulz, upon consultation with the leaders of the political groups, which is in the letter of the EP rules of procedure. More precisely, the rescheduling was decided on the basis of article 175, which says that when more than 50 amendments and requests for a split or separate vote have been tabled to a report in plenary, the President may ask the committee responsible to meet to consider those amendments or requests. Unofficially, it seems that the internal splits inside the main center-left group, the S&D, have made its leaders appeal to the EP President, which is affiliated to the same political family, to postpone the vote. The EPP was happy to go along with that. In this article I analyse this event from two angles: firstly, why the postponement happened; secondly, what is likely to happen after all in the EP on TTIP.
Precedents show that TTIP would not have been the longest vote in the plenary
Firstly, the vote on TTIP would not have been the first on which there were very many roll-call votes or separate votes requested. According to EP website, there were 116 amendments drafted to TTIP in plenary and 87 requests for roll-call votes. The EP plenary, however, had voted on dossiers with more roll-call votes. On 5th of February 2014, the EP plenary voted no less than 149 roll-call votes on the dossier A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies and many more separate votes by show of hands. Similarly, on 13th of March 2013, MEPs voted 87 times by roll-call (and many more times by show of hands) on the dossier Decision on the opening of, and mandate for, interinstitutional negotiations on common organization of the markets in agricultural products. In addition, anyone who follows the EP knows that the annual votes on EU budget are always very lengthy and tiresome, even at plenary stage. This makes it clear that the main reason was not simply technical, but rather political.
The ‘EU affairs information market’ was filled with speculations during the week of the plenary, after the main political actors started a blame game by selectively ‘leaking’ information from the inter-group negotiations to the outsiders. A swift survey that VoteWatch conducted in the following days (on its website and social networks) shows what various publics made of all these arguments (based on over 200 answers). The people who are unfavorable to TTIP believe that the EP president is the main ‘responsible’, or the key factor who generated the postponement. With respect to political groups, this public places the blame in relatively close proportions on the two main groups, S&D and EPP. On the other hand, the group of people who believe that TTIP is a ‘rather positive thing’ also thinks that by far the S&D group was the agent that triggered the postponement, while the other leftist groups have also played a greater role than the center-right groups in suspending the vote.
The postponement of the vote did not necessarily imply the deferral of the debate on TTIP. In this case, the plenary as a whole, and not the EP President, was the decision-making agent. Interestingly enough, the leftist groups would have wanted to still hold the debate, while the center-right was of the opinion that the debate has to take place the same day as the vote, and therefore should be postponed. The center-right won this battle by the narrowest of margins, 183 votes to 181. The difference was effectively made by a few socialist MEPs from Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Romania who broke off from the group line and voted for postponing the debate as well.
A strong majority in favour of TTIP is still there, a narrow one for ISDS
Despite this ‘incident’, the camp supporting TTIP in the EP is still far stronger than the one opposing it. EPP, S&D, ECR and ALDE continue to be largely on the ‘pro’ side and can even afford a reasonable number of MEPs not following the group line (e.g. French and Belgian French-speaking socialists). This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
As it stands, the only way in which TTIP as a whole could be rejected by the EP is if it includes an ISDS which would be considered unacceptable by a majority of MEPs. However, the Commission is aware of this and has come up with the softened version of the mechanism, which gives a stronger say to the public sector. As presented in an older comment, this move has brought about results, effectively ‘charming’ part of the socialist group within which the German delegation seems to be the most convinced. The position of the German SPD delegation is the key for three reasons: it is the junior coalition partner in Merkel’s government in the country whose population is the least convinced so far about the benefits of the TTIP; it is the second largest in the S&D group; it gives the EP rapporteur on TTIP, Bernd Lange.
The disputes within the socialist group on ISDS were foreseeable already 6 months ago, when the group decided to abstain on a reference to ISDS in EU’s competition policy dossier. All in all, it seems that, at this moment, the currently proposed form of the ISDS has a majority in the European Parliament, but this is fragile and there is a long way to go. Having learned the lesson from the dismissal of ACTA in 2012, the Commission will not want to risk sending to the EP an agreement as long as there is even a small chance of failure. Even the adoption with a small margin would be dangerous, given the big size of the deal and its implications and the fact that it will have to be implemented in the Member States.
Consequently, the Executive and the supporters of the reformed ISDS have more work to do to convince the public opinion, particularly in key states as Germany and Austria (where the support for TTIP is the lowest). If the supporters of ISDS can achieve that (which is far from being certain), that would serve as a solid basis for a larger majority of the S&D group to vote in its favour (though this will not be the case of the ‘most leftist’ factions of group). If no significant progress will be observable in this direction as the TTIP negotiations reach the final stages, then the investor’s protection clause will be considered too risky to include in the document that will be sent for approval to the MEPs.
All this means that there are a lot of issues still to be addressed, which makes it unlikely that the negotiations can be finalised within the timeline wished by the European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, i.e. the end of 2015.
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