On the 10th of September the European Commission rejected the latest European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) proposal, STOP TTIP. The rejection makes the 47th ECI failure (i.e. to be rejected, withdrawn, closed with insufficient support, or to be declined directly by the Commission) out of 48 total attempts.
The STOP TTIP proposal surfaced as a citizen response to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the United States of America and the European Union (EU). Started in July of 2013, the TTIP negotiations just completed their seventh round, scheduled for 29 September – 3 October, 2014. If successful, the treaty will be the largest bilateral trade agreement in history, involving over 40% of the world GDP. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a similar trade agreement between the European Union and Canada.
TTIP has been controversial from its inception but much of the formal protest has materialized this year. Between March and July 2014 the Commission opened an online public consultation in which citizens and organizations could express their opinions about the proposed clause in TTIP titled the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS); there were almost 150,000 responses making it an unusually popular consultation.
On the 3rd of July the European Court of Justice ruled that EU institutions, specifically the Commission and Council, would need to be more publicly transparent with negotiation documents. The Commission responded positively by posting a portion of its TTIP documents online and by holding media briefing talks on TTIP developments. Many EU citizens and organizations have found these Commission efforts to be lacking. Responding to continued complaints, the Ombudsman opened two investigations on 31 July regarding the maladministration of the TTIP negotiations on the part of the Commission and the Council. Ombudsman O’Reilly made several requests of the Commission, specifically: publish documents already requested by the public on their website, establish a public register of TTIP documents, invite business groups which have submitted documents to the Commission to make non-confidential versions public, and publish an online list of the stakeholders the Commission meets with regard to TTIP.
In the midst of this controversy, the STOP TTIP citizens’ initiative was created. Over 240 organizations from 21 member states, united to end negotiations of both TTIP and CETA. The initiative’s central critiques of these treaties included the ISDS clause, lower privacy and consumer standards, low transparency and democratic involvement, and a failure of the rule of law. The ECI submitted its proposal to the Commission and was set to begin the next step in the process, the collection of 1 million signatures of support from seven member states, on the 25th of September.
The Secretary General of the Commission wrote the rejection letter to the ECI: the STOP TTIP proposal is not legally qualified. According to the rejection letter, requesting that the Commission halt a negotiation process, STOP TTIP is acting outside its given power as a citizens’ initiative. The letter also informs STOP TTIP that if dissatisfied with the Commission’s decision, it can bring proceedings to the General Court or file a report of maladministration with the Ombudsman.
In a 19th September press release, its members expressed that they planned to appeal to the European Court of Justice. They also plan to continue signature collection in an unofficial manner in hopes of sending a citizens’ message to the Commission.
This unofficial collection process has now begun (see campaign website for more information). More than 580.000 signatures have been collected in only few days!
Karl Baer, of the ECI’s steering committee, explains how he believes the Commission’s ruling to be a politically motivated attempt to “gain time.” Michael Efler, also of the steering committee, expressed that he believed the Commission’s ruling to be legally ungrounded. The ECJ’s ruling will require time and with TTIP transatlantic negotiations set to end this year, time is in short supply. In the interim, STOP TTIP will remain active.
As the TTIP debate continues in the coming months, look for the 11th of October “Day of Action” against TTIP, CETA, and Trade in Service Agreement (TISA), the Ombudsman consultation ending on 31 October, the Commission’s report on the results of the ISDS public consultation due around November 2014, and for the future ruling of the ECJ on the STOP TTIP ECI.