Committee guide: INTA committee working hard to hold the Commission to account on trade deals

Parliament’s international trade committee is hard at work on holding the Commission to account on EU trade deals, says Bernd Lange.

Bernd Lange | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual

By Bernd Lange

10 Apr 2017

1. What do you see as the committee’s main achievements in the first half of the current mandate?

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty back in 2009 and the increased powers that were given to the European Parliament to scrutinise trade deals, the international trade committee has organised its work in such a way that it enables MEPs to follow the negotiations of different free trade agreements in detail, to listen to stakeholders and to hold the Commission to account in its role as negotiator.

The European Parliament has adopted resolutions on trade agreements such as TTIP and TiSA which provide clear guidelines for the Commission on the main elements of an acceptable deal. These resolutions are usually the result of a very intense discussion within political groups with different stakeholders and civil society all over Europe.

Our committee has also taken the lead on the adoption of two very important pieces of legislation, the conflict minerals and the anti-torture regulations, which show that trade instruments can also be used to support the EU’s foreign policy goals, such as the respect of human rights or the fight against the death penalty.

The international trade committee has also taken the lead in the very lengthy and thorough parliamentary debate on CETA, with more than 25 discussions on the EU-Canada deal in the committee, two delegations, different studies, legal opinions and a discussion session with national parliaments.

Because of pressure from the European Parliament, Canada and the EU decided to replace the private ISDS arbitration mechanism with the investment court system.


2. What do you believe are the main challenges and issues facing the committee for the remainder of the current legislature?

There are several important free trade agreements to which Parliament must give its consent, notably the EU-Vietnam and EU-Singapore deals.

There are also a number of key legislative dossiers to handle, such as the modernisation of our trade defence instruments and the reform of the dual use export controls-system.

Last but certainly not least, as soon as article 50 is triggered by the UK, our committee will start its preparatory work on Brexit, as the future relationship between the UK and the EU, after the withdrawal process has been concluded, will be based on negotiations of a trade agreement. One of the more horizontal challenges we face is the question of access to negotiating documents and information flows between the three institutions.

At the moment, we are negotiating an inter-institutional agreement with the Council and the Commission in order to ensure that MEPs are given the right information at the right time which will allow them to better scrutinise ongoing trade negotiations.

We have a good working relationship with the Commission in this respect and we have achieved a lot in terms of access to negotiating documents, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.


3. What, if any, impact will Brexit and other events such as national elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany, have on the committee’s work?

It is clear that because of Brexit, not only will we have to redefine our relationship with the UK, but we will also have to review our existing trade agreements in order to take into account this new situation. But this is of course not for the near future.


4. How can citizens become more engaged in what your committee does and how can you better communicate the work of the committee to voters and stakeholders?

Under my leadership, I have tried to ensure that the international trade committee is as open as possible towards citizens and stakeholders, and that as much information about our committee work is open and accessible.

We organise public hearings and workshops on a regular basis. In a few of these meetings, we ensured direct participation of citizens through social media. When our committee goes on delegations, for instance, towards countries holding the presidency or countries with whom we are negotiating free trade agreements, we try to ensure maximum presence in the local and national newspapers, so that the trade news goes beyond the Brussels bubble.


5. Are you concerned by the apparent reduction in recent weeks and months in the legislative output of the Commission due to the Refit exercise and do you expect this to continue? Will this impact on your committee’s workload and, if so, how?

Our committee has always been a bit of a special case, as we combine legislative power with scrutinising power over international trade negotiations.

As the international trade agenda has moved on to different partners and different agreements, we have not seen our workload decreasing.

On the contrary, after the agreements has entered into force, as for instance has been the case for the EU-South Korea agreement, my committee is also keen to play its role in monitoring its implementation, in order to verify if these agreements are actually delivering on their promises.

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