The opaque and often confusing politics of TTIP have made an important step forwards over the past week. It appears, on the surface at least, that the EU Commission is starting to understand the scale of public concern about TTIP.
The remarkable public response to the Commission’s consultation on ISDS: 150,000 replies from across Europe, cannot be ignored. The UK sent over a third of all submissions, by far the largest number of contributions.
Despite this overwhelming public opposition ISDS has not yet been removed from the treaty but is being reassessed. This is welcome and we must now await the full response from the commission that will appear over the next few months. I repeat what I have previously said: TTIP must not limit the ability of the Scottish Parliament to organise public services in the way that best fits the needs of the people of Scotland nor must it allow private firms to sue the Scottish Government for taking decisions in the best interests of the Scottish people.
The EU Commission has responded to these concerns by releasing a series of documents from the TTIP negotiations in a bid to increase transparency. The documents released present the position of the Commission in May 2014. Clearly, these are interesting but they tell only a fraction of half the story.
There have been three rounds of negotiations since these documents were relevant and we know nothing about what has occurred in these meetings. We also do not have any of the documents from the US negotiating team. To make any definitive statements we need greater transparency than is currently being offered. Having said this, for now it is worth delving into what we have been given.
On the central issue of the security of the NHS in Scotland there is no clear-cut answer provided. Indeed, the documents offer contradictory information and without further details it is impossible to state that public services are protected from private companies. Let me be clear, I will not vote for any treaty that could endanger the NHS in Scotland.
The key question that needs an answer is: how will the devolution legal framework interact with TTIP? The SNP is working together across the European, Scottish and UK parliaments to get an answer to this question.
Yesterday, in the House of Commons whilst responding to my colleague Eilidh Whiteford the UK government minster responsible has said that we should simply believe the assurances we have been given. I am still to be convinced.
I have submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament European and External relations committee chaired by Christina McKelvie (SNP) and based upon this the MSPs questioned Hiddo Houben, who is the Deputy Chief Negotiator for the EU. Under questioning from Willie Coffey (SNP) he confessed that “I don’t know the specificities of the UK constitution” and fell back on the usual mantra that “TTIP would not impact that”.
We need more than these unsubstantiated assurances. The UK government must provide actual answers to the questions people are asking and not simply sidestep the issue. The ongoing complacency of UK ministers who continue to provide unsupported platitudes is simply unacceptable.
This issue could easily be remedied if an explicit opt-out for the NHS was included in the text and such an outcome is clearly the most desirable. At the very least we need to see legal advice that explains how TTIP will interact with the Scottish NHS and indeed other sections of the public services upon which Scots rely.
In terms of food safety I am pleased the Commission has made it clear that the final decision on whether a product is safe should rest with the EU, and I call on them to stick to this position. The presence of a chapter on animal welfare is also to be welcomed and I hope that it can be used as a driver to push for higher standards of animal welfare in the US.
Unfortunately, many of the documents of importance are still kept out of sight, or are shown to a select group of MEPs in the TTIP reading room in the European Parliament. I hope that this will change and that all MEPs will be given unrestricted access.
I welcome that a dialogue appears to have begun between the Commission, MEPs and European society. We must all continue to apply pressure to ensure that when the TTIP text is finally released for MEPs approval it is an agreement that will benefit Scotland.
ISDS Public Consultation Results:
Documents Released by the Commission:
European and External Relations Committee TTIP Session:
House of Commons TTIP Debate: