This is shaping up to be a very bad week for David Cameron.
Not only is his ‘welfare reform’ plan a laughing-stock after the DWP was revealed to be posting fake tweets about Universal Credit; not only was he struck by a passing jogger when he was in Leeds to discuss the (don’t laugh) High Speed 3 project (less than a week after a man threw a bag of marbles at hime during Prime Minister’s Questions); but now…
His much-cherished plan to ‘lock in’ privatisation of National Health services in England is in jeopardy after incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced a review of the relevant part of a proposed trade agreement with the United States of America.
The decision must pile insult on top of injury for Cameron, who launched a famously lonely campaign to prevent Juncker’s appointment as president, attracting almost no support at all from his EU colleagues (only Hungary supported him) and confirming the catastrophic loss of influence the UK has suffered in the European Union under Cameron’s premiership.
Mr Juncker said the Investor-State Dispute Settlement scheme – a part of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement that critics say would make it possible for corporations to sue national governments for damages if new legislation was likely to affect their profitability – would be reviewed.
In a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Juncker said: “I took note of the intense debates around investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.
“My Commission will not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes. The rule of law and the principle of equality before the law must also apply in this context… There will be nothing that limits for the parties the access to national courts or that will allow secret courts to have the final say in disputes between investors and States.”
He said he had taken control over the ISDS process away from Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and handed it to Frans Timmermans, the incoming, and first, Vice-President in charge of the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. “There will be no investor-to-state dispute clause in TTIP if Frans does not agree with it too,” he said.
The Financial Times has reported that Juncker made his decision “largely at the behest of Germany, which has turned sour on ISDS”. This will rub salt into the recently-opened wound caused when the EU billed the UK an extra £1.7 billion for membership, based on calculations of our economic improvement (Germany is getting a rebate).
“Germany’s misgivings have in turn fed into a more generalised distemper with global trade across the EU, encompassing the French far right and fringe parties elsewhere. They claim ISDS has morphed into a tool of multinational companies that use the arbitration panels to circumvent, or even alter, national laws at their whim,” the paper reported.
This is exactly what has caused hundreds of thousands of people to complain to the European Commission after details of the TTIP proposals were leaked from secret meetings.
Even now, TTIP remains largely unreported by the mass media here in the UK, which is mainly run by right-wing, pro-privatisation moguls. Mr Juncker announced his decision in a speech on October 22 – a week ago – but the only British newspaper to report it was the FT.
For Cameron, the humiliation is just as bad, whether the media reports it or not.
This is not a victory for campaigners against ISDS or the TTIP – although Mr Juncker’s decision may discourage the United States from taking the project further. It remains as important as ever that anyone with an objection needs to make that objection known.
But it is a good sign.
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