At first, De Gucht told us there was nothing to see here. Yet in January, the man who does not do “give and take” performed a handbrake turn and promised that there would be a three-month public consultation on the settlement, beginning in “early March.” The transatlantic talks resumed on Monday. So far there is no sign of the consultation.
And still there remains that howling absence: a credible explanation of why the settlement is necessary. As the British minister promoting the partnership, Minister Without Portfolio Kenneth Clarke, admits: “It was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.”
So what is it doing in a US-EU treaty? A report commissioned by the UK government found that the settlement “is highly unlikely to encourage investment” and is “likely to provide the UK with few or no benefits.” Yet it could allow corporations on both sides of the ocean to sue the living daylights out of governments that stand in their way.
Unlike De Gucht, I believe in give and take. So instead of rejecting the whole idea, here are some basic tests which would determine whether or not the negotiators give a fig about democracy.
First, all negotiating positions, on both sides, would be released to the public as soon as they are tabled. Then, instead of being treated like patronized morons, we could debate these positions and consider their impacts.
Second, every chapter of the agreement would be subject to a separate vote in the European parliament. At present the parliament will be invited only to adopt or reject the whole package: When faced with such complexity, that is a meaningless choice.
Third, the partnership would contain a sunset clause. After five years it would be reconsidered. If it has failed to live up to its promise of enhanced economic performance, or if it reduces public safety or public welfare, it could then be scrapped. I accept that this would be almost unprecedented: most such treaties, unlike elected governments, are “valid indefinitely.” How democratic does that sound?
So here is my challenge to De Gucht and Clarke and the others who want us to shut up and take our medicine: Why not make these changes? If you reject them, how does that square with your claims about safeguarding democracy and the public interest? How about a little give and take?