UNITED STATES: Parliament wants to be involved in free-trade talks

24 May 2013
Agence Europe


Brussels, 23/05/2013 (Agence Europe) – While supporting the launch of talks with Washington, the European Parliament has highlighted its expectations regarding the opening up of US public procurement and the protection of European audiovisual and cultural services.

In a resolution adopted in plenary session on Thursday 23 May and prepared by Vital Moreira (S&D, Portugal), who chairs the committee on international trade, Parliament requests that it be involved in free-trade talks with the United States. Mid-June, the Council is to grant the Commission a negotiating mandate, as amended by the EU27, so that talks can begin in July.

Speaking before the vote on the Parliament's contribution to the expected mandate, Moreira pointed out that an ambitious and comprehensive agreement will give the necessary impetus and not be too heavy a financial burden to bear. The resolution, he warned, should be duly taken into account by the Council and the Commission as “we shall give our final agreement only if the outcome is positive for our businesses, our workers and our citizens”, he warned.

Although MEPs gave their support to initiating talks by 460 votes to 105, with 28 abstentions, they nonetheless reminded negotiators of their duty to keep them “immediately and fully” informed of all stages in the negotiation. “The Parliament can bare its teeth”, Moreira stressed.

Lifting restrictions but protecting European values. In the hope that the agreement will open up new opportunities for EU businesses, and especially for SMEs, MEPs trust the Commission will seek to obtain full access to American public procurement markets, and also obtain the lifting of restrictions applied to maritime and air transport services and to financial service providers.

Nonetheless, at the level of regulatory convergence and standards, which will be at the heart of the talks, MEPs define “red lines” on the European values to be defended, including the precautionary principles on food safety relating to GMOs, cloning, intellectual property, geographical indications and a high level of data protection. They also call for EU's social and environmental standards not to be compromised.

Defence of cultural exception. In a separate vote, MEPs supported – by 381 votes to 191, with 17 abstentions – the exclusion of cultural and audiovisual services from the negotiation mandate, including online services, in order to protect cultural and linguistic diversity of EU member states.

EPP wants negotiations to start rapidly. “A reduction of customs and trade barriers on both sides of the Atlantic would be a vitamin boost for Europe's economy. Negotiations must start quickly to create new growth for Europe”, commented Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl of Germany on behalf of the group. She nonetheless said that the European Parliament, which will give final endorsement, must be kept informed. Headed by Nora Berra, Tokia Saïfi and Franck Proust, the French delegation of the EPP Group welcomed the exclusion of cultural and audiovisual services from the Commission negotiating mandate. They nonetheless regretted non-exclusion of the defence sector mandate, recommended by their compatriot Arnaud Danjean, calling on French President François Hollande to be “persuasive” in Council.

S&D wants to protect sensitive sectors. “We fully acknowledge the potentially positive impact the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP) could have on growth and jobs (…). However, our objective is to negotiate higher, not lower, standards for jobs and growth. This is why the S&D Group has stressed the need to safeguard workers and social rights, environmental and food quality standards, data protection and cultural diversity”, commented the leader of the group, Hannes Swoboda of Austria.

ALDE is in favour of mandate without red lines. “The perspective of facilitating economic growth and jobs, without needing to spend taxpayers' money, is very good news. However, the road ahead will be challenging, and we need the involvement of citizens, SMEs and businesses to ensure this is a treatment for and by people. For that, trust in the negotiation process, as well as the involvement of stakeholders, is essential”, underlines Marietje Schaake of the Netherlands, calling for talks not to be limited and for the mandate not to contain any red lines.

The Greens/EFA are against extending the EU to the American model. Regretting what he called a very bad signal for the economic and the societal choices of the EU, Yannick Jadot of France feared that investors' rights and those of multinational firms will be dramatically strengthened to the detriment of workers. His compatriot José Bové feared that, with the setting in place of an agreement of this kind, it is the law on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and the moratoriums on GMOs that will be put at risk.

GUE/NGL opposes the way peoples are being forced into greater competition. MEPs Jacky Hénin, Patrick Le Hyaric and Jean-Luc Mélenchon say the agreement will result in increased competition, with a disastrous impact at local, economic, environmental and health levels because it is about US multinationals wriggling out of European standards in this domain. They warn that it will even destroy the cultural exception.

23 May 2013

Tensions were running high in the European Parliament ahead of a debate on a resolution on the EU's trade and investment negotiations with the US, on 22 May. The exchange of views in Strasbourg's hemicycle had not yet taken place when Europolitics went to press, but the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was already at the centre of attention.

What will or will not be included in the resolution, which states MEPs' expectations of the upcoming transatlantic talks, will set the tone vis-à-vis Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht before he starts talks on what could be the biggest trade deal ever negotiated, even though legally the EU executive does not need Parliament's approval to launch negotiations.

Nevertheless, MEPs will have to give the final nod to the deal once De Gucht and his US counterpart have concluded it. To avoid an ACTA-like fiasco, the EU's trade chief would be wise to heed Parliament's position during the talks.

While it is already certain that European lawmakers will give their green light to the opening of transatlantic trade talks – despite the GUE-NGL group's call for the Council to reject the Commission's negotiating mandate – it is not yet possible to predict the outcome of the vote on issues such as the “cultural exception” or defence, since the political groups in Parliament are internally divided on the subject.

The European People's Party – which holds the parliamentary majority – is split on whether or not to demand the exclusion of cultural and audiovisual services from the Commission's negotiating mandate (Paragraph 11 of the resolution), Nora Berra (EPP, France) said. The Socialists and Democrats held a vote, on 21 May, in which 45 MEPs voted for the inclusion of Paragraph 11, while 14 (mainly from the Portuguese and the UK delegations) asked for said paragraph to be removed.

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