Our questions to the Commissioner-designate for trade

Yesterday was the first day of the hearings with the Commissioners-designate in the European Parliament. Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner-designate for Trade, is one of the designates who were heard by the Parliament.

In the last weeks we sent the European Parliament the questions we would have liked MEPs to ask her:

  • What actions will you take to protect social, health and education services from the trade agreement between the EU and the US?
  • Will you make sure that companies can only settle disputes through official courts rather than behind closed doors?

Cecilia Malmström opened her opening statement by saying that international trade and investment touch upon many aspects of people’s life around the world. Fighting for democratic freedoms, transparency and accountability has been the cornerstone of her political engagement at the Parliament, the Council and the Commission and she wants to bring that commitment to trade policies. Trade policy inspired by democratic values has only one goal which is to improve people’s quality of life. Trade and open markets are not a aim in itself but a means to an end. Trade is advancing the interest of the whole society and will become even more important for European jobs and growth, as world's economies are interconnected. She committed to assess the ongoing agreements on the basis of the following principles:

  • Trade must be driven by  citizens' interest
  • Trade negotiations have to be open and transparent
  • Trade agreements support rather than weaken the protection for the environment, health, food safety etc.

TTIP was the most debated agreement. Many MEPs raised the question about the Investor-state Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which has been highly put into question. Malmström flagged the possibility to design "a new system that addressed all people’s concerns." Although she conceded that it would be a mistake to open up CETA negotiations (between the EU and Canada) for ISDS, she said she will work towards finding a solution. “Whether ISDS will stay in TTIP, I don’t know it is too early to say,” Malmström said. She thinks it is possible to design a system that addresses people’s concerns, with unambiguous rules to avoid abuses of ISDS with full transparency. ISDS shouldn't be used to inhibit the right of member states to regulate the public interest. In TTIP the Commission has decided to freeze this chapter. In his political guidelines Juncker stated that he is not going to accept that jurisdiction of courts are limited by special regimes for investment dispute; the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law have to apply also in this context.

A few questions were asked about public services. In particular Jude Kirton-Darling recalled that the EU Treaties recognise the special nature of public services and in particular the common principles of universality, affordability, continuity, equal access and non-discrimination. There is high concern with TTIP, CETA and TISA with the negative list approach towards services (services that are not explicitely excluded from the scope of agreements, are potentially included) that the protection guaranteed by the treaties will be undermined by those agreements. She asked the Commissioner-designate if she can commit that public services, including social services, health, education, water and sanitation, are excluded from those agreements.

Malmström responded that public services are excluded from negotiations. Only in the case that member states decide to open these services up for competition, they will be included in the agreements on a bi-lateral basis.

Furthermore, what is also interesting for us, is that she made a firm commitment about transparency in the negotiations in trade agreements, she will insist that greater transparency is ensured in particular in TTIP. She will publish the list of meetings with stakeholders and of large part of her correspondence with outside organisations. She will make engaging with CSOs and social partners a personal priority the first month in office. She is also prepared to make sure that all MEPs can consult the negotiating documents,  provided that the Parliament puts in place a system that ensures confidentiality.