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In one week MEPs could kill ISDS forever…but will they?

 

On 12 February the European Parliament will vote on the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA).

Not heard of it? You’re not alone. Pro-ISDS forces in the Commission and Parliament are hoping that no one will notice that this seemingly obscure agreement actually holds the key to the revival of the dying system of investor-state dispute settlement.

After all – Singapore is pretty harmless right? It’s a small country that is famous for being so squeaky clean that chewing gum is banned.

But the implications of this ISDS deal are anything but clean.

After all, it involves a comeback for the system that allowed Vattenfall to wiggle out of regulations on its dirty coal power station in Hamburg. The very same system that is punishing Romania for halting a mining project that would have displaced whole villages.

So the stakes are high for this vote next week. Its outcome could affect all of us who value workers’ rights, food safety standards, public healthcare and affordable utilities. As these are all things that have been threatened by ISDS cases in the past.

Victory is also very possible. Thanks to the huge backlash against it seen during the anti-TTIP protests a few years ago, ISDS has been completely discredited and it is dying. Major economies like Indonesia and South Africa are ripping up deals that contain the dreaded ISDS clauses and are not suffering any verifiable reduction in investment as a result. The world has woken up to the fact that ISDS is a busted flush and until now it looked likely that it would slowly disappear.

But there is a small elite who have benefited enormously from the huge power and financial rewards that ISDS provides. Just ask Occidental Petroleum which won almost a billion dollars from Ecuador or even any of the elite club of ISDS lawyers who rake in fat fees from the system.

And these forces have lobbied hard to save ISDS and bring in back from the dead. They are doing this by backing some piecemeal reforms and repackaging the system as a “Multilateral Investment Court” (also sometimes called the Investment Court System). And they are hoping that by putting it into a deal with a relatively small and uncontroversial deal like the EU-Singapore investment agreement, no one will notice that ISDS has been brought back to life.

It’s a sneaky plan. But if we manage to get the message out to our MEPs then we might be able to stop it.

But the idea that the version of ISDS in EUSIPA is ‘reformed’ could tempt many of our representatives to vote for it. To them we need to be clear – ISDS cannot be reformed. The ‘new’ system proposed as part of the Singapore deal suffers from most of the same problems as ‘classic’ ISDS. Whatever gloss you want to put on it, it is still a way for multinationals to bully governments into doing their bidding. Cases will still be judged using the same legal tests that have seen investors win against governments pursuing legitimate regulation. And while there will be a bit more transparency and some safeguards – the ‘judges’ in this system will still be paid on a ‘fee’ basis rather than fixed wages. This means that the perverse incentive of arbitrators to find in favour of investors remains in place. After all, what better way is there of encouraging more cases (and therefore guaranteeing yourself more income) than to interpret the rules in the corporations’ favour?

The fact is that whether it is called ISDS, ICS or MIC – the system that allows multinationals to strongarm governments over any decision that doesn’t take their fancy is just plain wrong. MEPs should not be fooled. The system being proposed in the Singapore deal is still the same old ISDS once you scratch the surface.

We have just one week to go until the vote to convince MEPs to vote down EUSIPA. Luckily quite a few of them on our side already. But we probably have some way to go.

If you want to help do this and have one minute to spare, please sign the petition against ISDS and corporate impunity. If enough people sign before 12 February, we can use sheer weight of numbers to convince the politicians that backing this dodgy deal is not a smart move.