The European Commission has formally presented its proposed reforms on the controversial investment protection and dispute resolution for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The 'more transparent' investment court system will replace the so-called investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. It aims to safeguard the right to regulate and create a court-like system with an appeal mechanism based on clearly defined rules, with qualified judges and transparent proceedings.
European trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said, "Today marks the end of a long internal process in the EU to develop a modern approach on investment protection and dispute resolution for TTIP and beyond."
The Commission's announcement has come in from criticism from some MEPs and anti-TTIP campaigners. The reforms are alleged to be superficial, with the ICS retaining many of the features of the old ISDS system.
Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on TTIP and CETA (Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement), said, "We must of course wait to see full details of the proposals, but if the ICS is merely ISDS-lite, it is clearly not something we will be happy with.
"Labour MEPs have led opposition to ISDS in the European Parliament - in July, we voted against the Parliament's resolution on TTIP because the text did not fully exclude ISDS.
"We have also been making the case to the UK government, the Commission and US negotiators that having any form of ISDS in TTIP is not a good idea."
Ska Keller, of the Greens/EFA grouping, argued that changes to the mechanism were superficial. She told Parliament Magazine that "a new name does not change anything," adding, "as long as there is a system in place for investors to litigate against states, as the compromise calls for, it is ISDS."
Global Justice Now, a justice organisation and vocal critic of TTIP, in response to the Commission's announcement, said, "The Commission is clearly feeling the intense pressure of public feeling against TTIP and ISDS, but its proposal today amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a particularly unpopular pig."
They continued, "This ‘new’ system retains most of the major problems with ISDS. It effectively provides corporations with a taxpayer underwritten risk insurance should governments feel the need to protect labour rights, the environment or vital public services."
These criticisms were echoed by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), a member of the Commission's TTIP advisory group.
Their Secretary General, Nina Renshaw, commented, "Largely semantic changes from arbitration to Tribunal will not convince us to support a fundamentally biased system with a long track record of being used and abused - most frequently by the tobacco industry - to abort public health policies."
The inclusion of ISDS in the trade deal has been the main sticking point in negotiations between the EU and US. In July, MEPs refused to support TTIP, potentially the most valuable bilateral trade agreement ever signed, unless the ISDS mechanism was replaced.
A public consultation led by the EU Commission into ISDS found that members of the public were strongly opposed to it. The report found that, "the collective submissions reflect a widespread opposition to ISDS in TTIP or in general."
A European citizens' initiative (ECI) organised by Stop TTIP has received greater support than any previous ECI in history. Over 3 million people in 23 member states signed the petition in protest against the trade agreement. It was delivered to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, on Monday this week.