The European Commission wanted to deny democracy. They lost. We won.

25 May 2017 - 11:30am
News

To anyone familiar with War on Want’s campaigns against the hated EU-US deal TTIP and its Canadian equivalent, CETA, you’ll likely have already seen the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) petition against the deals.

And, given that the petition was signed by more than 3 million people across Europe – with 500,000 signing in the UK alone – there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you’re already a signatory.

 

The intention of the ECI was simple: ECIs offer direct accountability to EU citizens. If 1 million signatures are collected in a year, reaching set national quotas in at least seven EU countries, a policy review is triggered.

An ECI against TTIP and CETA, backed by 230 civil society organisations from across Europe, was formally lodged with the European Commission in July 2014. But the Commission refused to register the ECI, instead arguing that only an ECI in support of TTIP and CETA would be admissible.

Undaunted, civil society groups around Europe carried on regardless with a ‘self-organised’ ECI, and reached the 1 million signature target within a record two months. In November 2014, the Stop TTIP Coalition filed a lawsuit against the Commission’s decision at the European Court of Justice.

The rejection of the ECI was an outrageous decision by the European Commission. As we said at the time, "these trade deals are already facing unprecedented opposition for their secrecy and unaccountability, but now we are denied even the right to petition our own EU leaders. An unelected executive, facing growing vocal opposition, has put its hands over its ears."

Now, the European Court of Justice has done the right thing. Although it’s important to note that had the decision come earlier, or had the Commission not flouted EU law in the first place, TTIP and CETA may have been under much more serious pressure, much sooner.

In its ruling, the ECJ highlighted the “principle of democracy” in throwing out the Commission’s position, which it unequivocally rejected.

As MEP Helmut Scholz, said, the judgement was a “strong signal for democracy in the EU and reinforcement of the broad public criticism of neoliberal free trade agreements.”

With the UK set to embark on its own trade policy after Brexit, the significance of this news must not be underestimated: the UK currently lacks mechanisms for ensuring transparency, accountability and democracy in trade.

Ensuring the involvement of parliament and the public in trade deals which touch on all areas of life is an issue we highlighted to a recent parliamentary inquiry into a potential UK-US trade deal. And stay tuned for the launch of our campaign on ensuring transparency and democracy in UK trade deals after the June general election.

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