The European Parliament has postponed a vote to endorse the EU’s negotiating position on a free trade deal with the United States after divisions within the second-biggest bloc in the assembly laid bare the depth of disquiet in Europe about controversial investor protection clauses.
Parliamentary leaders had hoped to agree on a resolution Wednesday backing the European Commission in the talks — and trumpeted the recent approval of a fragile compromise in its International Trade Committee (INTA) as a sign that negotiations could at last move forward. Although Parliament’s approval is not essential at this stage, it is considered vital for the project’s success.
Instead, strong opposition from many members of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group and pressure from non-governmental organizations opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), made a broader agreement impossible to achieve before Wednesday’s planned vote.
Under a deluge of more than 200 amendments from MEPs, the Parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, decided Tuesday to send the text of the resolution back to INTA.
The debate will go ahead on Wednesday but the resolution’s delay illustrates just how controversial TTIP has become in Europe. At the G7 summit earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a rapid conclusion to the trade talks.
Earlier Tuesday, MEPs received an email from Kristian Knudsen, the European Parliament’s director general, saying that because of the large number of amendments, Schulz had decided “to ask the committee to meet to consider the amendments and requests tabled to the plenary. Therefore, the plenary vote on the report, scheduled for noon tomorrow, Wednesday, will note take place.”
Emma McClarkin, a British member of the parliamentary group European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR), said it was bad news for a trade deal that she believes would benefit consumers and businesses across the EU. “The Parliament was ready to vote on its position but President Schulz has pulled the vote to save the Socialist group’s blushes,” she said.
“This is a complete embarrassment for the Socialists & Democrats group,” said MEP Christofer Fjellner from the European People’s Party. “They screwed up the resolution so much so that they had to call in Schulz with his extraordinary authority to change the agenda already set by plenary. In my 11 years in this house, I cannot remember something like this happening.”
MEP Bernd Lange of the Socialists & Democrats group, the chairman of the International Trade Committee, said, “We stand ready to vote and fight for a resolution which is shaped according to our values. But we accept the decision of the president and will continue to work on gathering support for our position.”
Members of the assembly’s two largest political blocs have struggled over the past week to keep together a fragile deal as disputes simmered, especially within the S&D, over how to reach a compromise amendment on the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS), a private arbitration system now standard in many trade deals. Critics worry about the implications of allowing companies in one country to sue governments in another country if an investment runs into problems.
Hans von der Burchard, Maïa de la Baume and Jacopo Barigazzi in Politico.