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European Commission refuses to hear citizens on TTIP and CETA

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A request to launch a citizen’s initiative concerning TTIP and CETA was rejected by the European Commission on 10 September. The EC refuses to register the initiative because they consider that it falls outside its competence. TNI, SOMO and other civil society organisations believe that the Commission is undermining citizen participation and they call on the new Commission to overturn their decision.

Roeline Knottnerus of SOMO: “By rejecting the European citizens’ initiative on TTIP and CETA, the Commission proves once more that they are listening to the corporate lobby and ignoring the voice of the citizen.” In the run-up to the TTIP negotiations, the EC received 520 lobbyists from the business sector (92% of the consultations regarding the TTIP), and they only spoke to other stakeholders on 26 occasions (4%).

Citizens’ initiative

The citizens’ initiative, which includes 230 organisations from 21 EU member states, was requesting the European Commission to stop its TTIP negotiations with the USA and not to ratify its treaty with Canada. If one million signatures are collected, the Commission must address the request by means of a hearing at the European Parliament and a serious investigation.

ISDS clause

The trade treaty negotiations with the USA (TTIP) and Canada (CETA) have faced widespread resistance not just in the Netherlands and Europe but also across the USA and Canada. Both agreements provide ample space to manoeuvre to multinational investors, and the price to be paid is expected to be great: unremitting deregulation, privatisation, erosion of labour regulations and consumer protection, as well as the hollowing out of environmental standards. The most controversial aspect of the treaties is the so-called ISDS clause. It allows any investor who is unhappy with national policies in the country where they are investing (say, environmental measures, or a ban on shale gas drilling) to challenge that country before an ad-hoc tribunal. A closed-door trial would then decide on the damages that the investor can claim from the country.

Societal concerns

“Instead of addressing the broad societal concerns that surround these treaties, the Commission refuses to even engage in a debate,” says Hilde van der Pas of the Transnational Institute. The Commission purports that the negotiation mandates for TTIP and CETA are an internal affair between European instances and therefore cannot be subject to a citizens’ initiative.

Stop TTIP Alliance

The Stop TTIP Alliance, initiator of the citizens’ initiative, takes issue with this claim, and underpins its argument with legal counsel it had commissioned beforehand. SOMO and TNI support these objections.

The Alliance is announcing it will take legal action and that it will bring them before the European Court. It also calls on the new president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to overturn this anti-democratic decision. Juncker must prove that he takes to heart his promise of increased transparency and democracy in the EU, according to Michael Efler, one of the initiators of the ECI.

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