Tech Dirt | 3 September 2015
European Commission admits defeat in trying to improve corporate sovereignty chapter in CETA
by Glyn Moody
The excitement over the mad dash to finish TPP — and the failure to do so — has rather obscured the other so-called trade deals currently being negotiated, such as TAFTA/TTIP and the one between the EU and Canada, CETA. As Techdirt has reported, CETA is even further along than TPP, in what is known as the "legal scrub" phase when the lawyers tweak the agreed text in an attempt to catch drafting errors or other infelicities. Back in June, the EU commissioner responsible for trade and trade agreements, Cecilia Malmström, told Politico.eu that CETA "could be done by the end of July". That obviously didn’t happen, or we would presumably have heard about it by now. The Politico.eu article gives a clue as to why not:
Malmström acknowledged that the most delicate part of the legal scrubbing, the clauses about the investor state dispute settlement, also referred to as ISDS, still remain. "We haven’t started with that yet," she said, arguing that only three pages of the treaty deals with the sensitive issue, whereas "there are 1597 pages talking about other things."
So the festering wound that is corporate sovereignty, formally "investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS), could well be the problem here. Back in March of this year, on the subject of corporate sovereignty in CETA, Malmström said:
We will propose any further changes [in ISDS] we collectively agree on in TTIP to the Canadian government.
This promise seems to have been based on the optimistic idea that the European Commission would actually be able to come up with some improvements to ISDS in the wake of its massive rejection by the public in the Commission’s consultation on the subject. It’s true that Malmström went on to present some very vague ideas about ways in which corporate sovereignty could be "improved", but so far these have not been turned into concrete proposals that could be discussed with the Canadian government.
Given that failure, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Zeit Online is reporting (original in German) that Malmström now has no plans to try to change CETA for the better before it is signed, merely saying that afterwards there will be a "check" on the ISDS mechanism — a worthless promise, since at that point Canada will have zero reason to make any concessions.
But signing CETA with the current corporate sovereignty chapter is a big problem. CETA’s ISDS is actually worse than previous approaches, despite repeated claims to the contrary by the European Commission. But by way of consolation, leaving it untouched may also make getting CETA passed much harder. As we wrote in February, there are some indications that German’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is not happy about the current ISDS chapter in CETA, while the French government has said that if the ISDS chapter is not re-written, France will not ratify the treaty.
Similarly, in a non-binding but significant set of recommendations to the European Commission regarding TTIP, the European Parliament said that ISDS must be replaced with "a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states which is subject to democratic principles and scrutiny" — hinting that, without such a new system, it would vote against TTIP. If that is its position on TTIP, it would make no sense not to apply it to CETA, too: since US companies will be able to use their Canadian subsidiaries to sue the EU by invoking CETA’s corporate sovereignty chapter, a bad ISDS in CETA would undermine a "better" one in TTIP.
Of course, politicians are notoriously fickle, so it’s by no means certain that national governments and the European Parliament will stick to these stated positions when it comes to the actual votes for CETA and TAFTA/TTIP. But there’s no doubt that the European Commission’s failure to come up with even the mildest of face-saving changes to CETA’s corporate sovereignty provisions has just made the task of pushing the deals through a little bit harder.