Jasper van Dijk and Anne-Marie Mineur: No TTIP without a referendum

10 March 2015

Jasper van Dijk and Anne-Marie Mineur: No TTIP without a referendum

The new European Commission wants to change completely the way things are done. Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans are at one in their view that many EU member states’ citizens have had enough of Brussels’ passion for interference, and national parliaments must be hampered as little as possible. Or so we’re told.

In practice, however, the new Commission is still doing all in its power to prevent national parliaments having the last word, especially when it comes to the trade and investment treaties that the EU is looking to conclude. In our opinion, national parliaments having the right to approve treaties is a no-brainer. In the case of treaties which will bring radical change, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), referenda are appropriate.

In June 2014 the Parliament of the Netherlands, along with fifteen other member states’ parliaments, demanded a full say in decision-making on all free trade treaties on which the Commission is negotiating. Karel De Gucht , who at the time was European Commissioner for external trade, considered this absurd, and took court action over a treaty with Singapore. His view was that it is the Commission and the European Parliament, and not national parliaments, which have the last word on such treaties.

This view is based on the Lisbon Treaty, the text of which was rejected here in the Netherlands by more than 60% of those voting in the referendum on the issue. This treaty established that the European Commission has the power to conclude trade treaties, since which the Commission has interpreted this by trying to exclude national parliaments from the game.

The new generation of trade treaties go a lot further than such treaties have gone in the past. Those mostly concerned tariffs, but these new treaties, such as the draft treaty with Canada – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – and the treaty currently being negotiated with the US, represent a substantial infringement of our democracy. By giving broad access to products that will not necessarily meet European standards, the treaty will put European firms under pressure, creating unfair competition.

The notorious Investor-State Dispute Settlement System (ISDS), under which corporations can lodge very high claims for damages whenever new laws hamper their investments, forms a direct undermining of our democracy. Protective measures dealing with such matters as health and safety, working conditions or environmental matters, will no longer be secure.

The fact that the European Commission wants to introduce this sort of measure, one entirely without democratic legitimacy, speaks of enormous administrative arrogance. These treaties are, after all, at least as far-reaching as was the European Constitution, roundly rejected by the Dutch electorate in 2005. It would be bizarre if national parliaments were not allowed to vote on any proposed agreement. The least the Commission can do is submit these treaties to national parliaments. Still better would be for the Netherlands to hold a referendum, so that Dutch citizens can express their views.

Jasper van Dijk is a Member of the Dutch national Parliament in The Hague. Annemarie-Mineur is a Member of the European Parliament. Both represent the SP.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website Joop.nl

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