Even if people have plucked it and dressed it in new feathers, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's still most likely a bloody duck.
That was the situation in the Plenary on Wednesday when we finally voted on what we were told was a new and improved version of the TTIP document (proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, between the EU and the USA) we're sending to the European Commission.
That vote was meant to happen at the last Plenary session here in Strasbourg a month ago but didn't, a strategic decision taken by the President, Martin Schultz, a member of what's called here the 'Grand Coalition'. That includes the EPP and S&D (ALDE is also in there), much like our own Fine Gael and Labour in the Dáil and just as dominant and anti-democratic.
In the lead-up to that vote (and remember, this isn't a vote on TTIP itself, just an interim vote on a sort of guideline document from the Parliament to the Commission) the Grand Coalition was smug as a bug in duty-free rug, certain it had the votes to easily carry the day against all those of us who have been campaigning hard against much that is contained in this Corporate Charter.
At the last minute though – and it was the last minute – they realised they had a problem. The S&D's were coming under enormous pressure, on the ISDS element of the deal especially, the clause that establishes a new court and an accompanying new layer of legal jurisdiction over and above anything we have at the moment in either the EU or the USA. The proven history of both those type of ISDS clauses and of the new courts they use is that it enables major corporations to sue states on an equal footing, with the profit of those corporations – actual and expected – as the bottom line.
There are those like myself who have no problem with real trade negotiations getting rid of real obstacles to fair trade, be they simple bureaucracy – the bane of my life and probably yours, since this EU was established – or duplication of testing for exactly the same standards. That though is not what TTIP is about.
What I DO have a problem with is when what I see as protections that have been hard won over many decades of battling against vested interests – things like environment protections, labour rights, health & safety standards, food quality and so on – are treated as barriers by the corporations, with our politicians in power then agreeing to lower or even get rid of many of those protections.
Aside from all that – though parallel to it – is this ISDS issue. Now any politician with half a brain should understand that ISDS is a weapon to be used AGAINST nation-states. When you look at both the EU and the USA, the question you have to ask is this – given that both claim to have legal systems of the highest standard anywhere, ever, why the need for yet another layer? What kind of investor will invest in the EU or the USA ONLY if this ISDS is in place? Do we need that kind of investor coming into any of our jurisdictions??? I don't.
Which brings me back to the last Plenary and – fearing defeat – the last-minute decision by Martin Schultz to pull the vote, a move that surprised even the most experienced members here. During the last month Mr Schultz and his fellow S&D MEPs, along with the EPP and oh, perhaps a few very interested 'advisers', were busy beavering away to find a new set of words and VOILA! This week in the Plenary we're presented with a new ISDS proposal which – they claim – isn't in fact an ISDS proposal at all but something entirely different, something better even for all us nervous EU citizens.
But there will still be a new layer of legislation, corporations will still be able to sue states in a court above and beyond any system that's open to everyone else, and states will still be reluctant to introduce legislation they fear might be open to challenge in this new court.
If it looks, waddles, quacks…
The bad news is that this time the vote did go ahead, and this time the vote was carried (our own Famous Four from Fine Gael, Deirdre Clune, Sean Kelly, Brian Hayes and Mairead McGuinness, all voting for, right down the line, though in fairness to Nessa Childers, she went against her fellow S&D MEPs, voted against).
The good news is that though this was a battle lost, we did force a partial retreat; also, and much more significantly, the war is still there to be won. And with the continued support of the kind of people who expressed their opposition to the ISDS clause to the Commission – over two million, and counting – win it we will.
Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.