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Labour Is Ready to Vote Against Secret Corporate Courts in Trade Deals

11/06/2015 13:34 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 10:59 BST

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Wednesday 10 June was supposed to mark an important occasion for the European Parliament. It was going to be the day that 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) adopted a resolution outlining their red-lines for a huge trade deal currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the United States.

If passed, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, will be the biggest trade deal of its kind, shaping the rules governing a quarter of all global trade.

After a democratic process lasting many months, involving talks between MEPs and constituents, political parties and committees, the Parliament was going to have its chance to influence the direction of TTIP negotiations and in doing to give the people of Europe a voice at the highest levels of European governance.

It is therefore deeply disappointing that yesterday's vote on a resolution was postponed to an as yet undefined later date.

But why is a resolution from the Parliament so important?

First, it must be noted that it is the European Commission, not the European Parliament, which is leading trade negotiations with the Obama administration. We cannot 'stop', nor 'block' negotiations as various campaigners would wish: they are already happening. The role of MEPs in the process is instead limited to a blunt power to veto the final text of TTIP once it has been presented to Parliament.

What this does mean, however, is that unless the Commission listens to our demands, it can have no hope of seeing TTIP through.

In this context, adopting a Parliamentary resolution is a key tool. By outlining what MEPs are willing to accept, and what we would reject in a trade deal with the US, we would send a clear signal to the Commission that we are not prepared to give them a free hand.

Moreover, MEPs are democratically elected in order to represent European citizens at an EU level; not adopting a resolution that has been developed with their input would be a shirking of our democratic responsibility.

This is particularly the case with TTIP, which has received unprecedented attention from the public.

As member of the International Trade Committee in Parliament and the European Labour Party's spokesperson on TTIP, I have made listening to the concerns of my constituents a priority. I have met with hundreds of campaigners, attended dozens of events and written at length on the state of play in the Parliament in an attempt to explain in the clearest terms possible the complicated process of trade negotiations.

People fear that certain aspects of the deal under consideration could put our NHS and public services at risk, lower our high regulatory standards and worker protections and undermine the sovereignty of our governments.

ISDS, or Investor-State Dispute Settlement, has been subject to by far the greatest amount of concern. And rightly so: ISDS is a system of private arbitration through which corporations are able to sue governments for passing laws that threaten their profits. It is a para-judicial and often secret world in which hefty fines, at the expense of the taxpayer, are up for grabs.

My categorical opposition to ISDS has never wavered. Since being elected as Labour MEP for the North East I have been committed to fighting for its exclusion from future trade deals. But I am equally categorical that I am no anti-trade: when it works in society's best interests, it can be a vital asset to boosting local economies, supporting small and medium sized enterprises and providing jobs and training opportunities. TTIP could provide us with a unique opportunity to re-regulate globalisation.

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has outlined her desire to include ISDS in TTIP in no uncertain terms and the vast majority of European leaders, including our own Tory government, are evangelical advocates of the deal, irrespective of its contents. Unless Parliament is clear in its opposition to secret courts and support for key protections, the TTIP we don't want is almost certainly the one we will get.

In advance of yesterday's vote, the European Labour Party had clearly set out our red-lines for TTIP, which we were not prepared to cross. We were poised to oppose the inclusion of ISDS, to demand security for our NHS and public services as well as the maintenance of high labour standards and environmental protections. Moreover, we had been working hard to build a cross-party majority behind these demands and hoped to see our efforts bear fruit in a resolution that would truly reflect public opinion.

Making our demands heard yesterday morning was going to be tough, but we were ready.

We, with no doubt MEPs from across the political spectrum, were therefore extremely disappointed to hear that the vote in Parliament was to be postponed. Our chance to present the Commission with a mandate developed via proper democratic process was not to be granted to us yesterday.

This doesn't mean that Labour's position will change: our demands are definite. But it does mean is that the fight is not over and more work must be done to achieve consensus across a broad political spectrum. I believe this is possible: we now just need the political will of the entire Parliament.

Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England