EU Observer | 7 July 2016
EU ignores MEP demands on US free trade deal, NGOs say
By Nikolaj Nielsen
Opposition against the EU’s free-trade deal with the United States continues to mount in the lead up to the next round of talks next week.
On Thursday (7 July), organisations representing farmers and the environment, among others, sent a letter of protest against the trade talks to the head of the European parliament Martin Schulz.
The European Commission is negotiating the so-called Transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) in the hope of getting a deal before the end of US president’s Obama term.
But the groups say the Brussels-executive has defied EU parliament demands not to discuss issues like chemicals "where the EU and the US have very different rules".
David Azoulay, a senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), says the commission is ignoring parliament’s recommendations to keep chemicals out of TTIP.
“As it stands, TTIP threatens the EU’s ability to limit exposure to toxic chemicals by undermining its more precautionary approach to regulation," he said in a statement.
The EU parliament last July had issued a set of recommendations on the trade talks.
MEPs in the assembly demanded, among other things that the commission "fully respect[s] the established regulatory systems on both sides of the Atlantic."
But the groups in the letter to Schulz say the EU commission is set to ignore this as well.
They say the US will be granted early access to draft EU rules even before the EU parliament.
Such privileged access may enable the "US government to propose certain legislation or undermine existing proposals" before the formal regulatory process has even started.
The Health and Environment Alliance (Heal), an umbrella group of non-profits, warns the access is likely to increase US pressure to ease rules on things like hormone disrupting chemicals.
"In Europe we have banned over 80 pesticides, which are still legal in the US," said Heal’s executive director Genon K.Jensen.
A third issue revolves around the EU commission plan to set up an investment court system that will allow companies to challenge governments for perceived profit loss.
The commission argues the court will be more transparent than the existing investor state dispute settlement.
The investor state dispute settlement is a system of arbitration contained in numerous trade treaties. It is often the chosen method of solving disputes.
But the groups say the new court proposal fails to respect the jurisdictions of courts of the EU and member states.
Earlier this year, German magistrates described the commission’s court proposal as unlawful.
The commission, for its part, says it is unlikely an investor would even use its new court.
A commission spokesman told this website in February that the new court would not rule on member state law or EU.
"Hence the ICS [investment court system] in no way alters the established court system within the EU and the member states," he said.
Some 65 organisations signed the letter to Schulz.
Among them are Greenpeace, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, and Friends of the Earth Europe.