EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on Thursday urged member states to boost their engagement for the EU-U.S. trade deal, acknowledging the power of vocal opposition.
“The Commission’s mandate for TTIP negotiations comes from all 28 EU members. And they want this agreement,” Malmström said at the POLITICO event ‘The Politics of TTIP’ in Brussels. “So it’s their responsibility to explain the value of TTIP to their citizens.”
The Commissioner spoke a day after she released a revamped proposal for the most delicate issue in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the legal dispute solution. A swell of opposition over the past year has put trade deal backers on defense with critics complaining that the so-called investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, known as ISDS, puts too much power in the hands of corporations.
Opposition is particularly intense in Germany, where only 39 percent of the population backs the trade deal.
Malmström said it remains the task of political leaders in Berlin to soften the widespread skepticism. “This is not my job,” she said.
Yet, she acknowledged that German trade minister Sigmar Gabriel is already doing a lot and seemed optimistic that the new ISDS will help to win back the increasingly distrustful public.
The new proposal would turn the ISDS mechanism into a transparent dispute settlement court with 15 independent judges and an appeals mechanism. The judges would publicly appointed by the U.S., the EU and a third country.
Responding to critics from the Green party in the European Parliament who called this initiative a “marketing stunt,” Malmström said “they haven’t probably read it fully,” but acknowledged that “you can’t please everybody.”
“This system is not about taking into question states’ right to regulate, it is designed only for very few cases in the U.S. or EU where business is actually discriminated,” the trade commissioner said, adding that it “will also set the standards for all upcoming trade deals.”
Still, MEP Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Green party in the European Parliament, accused the Commission at the POLITICO event of slavishly following the interest of big business. “Who was asking for TTIP? It wasn’t small business, it was the American Chamber of Commerce and Business Europe: I have no time for these guys.”
Later in the event, Malmström won the backing of former Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, now an MEP, who lauded her “efforts to reform ISDS.”
Malmström also gave some insight on what’s on the table during the next TTIP negotiation round in mid-October: “There is a lot to discuss on market access and public procurement, but we have already advanced a lot with regulatory cooperation.“
Meanwhile, the sensitive ISDS issue will remain “frozen” in the negotiations with Washington until her new proposal has been discussed with member states and Parliament.
The trade commissioner will fly to Washington on Monday to prepare the negotiation round.
Despite the fact that she is seeing U.S. chief negotiator Michael Froman frequently, she said their relationship remains strictly business: “We don’t share hobbies, we don’t Whatsapp, we just call each other and have meetings.”
Watch: Viviane Reding on how she thinks Europe will benefit from TTIP.
Ryan Heath and Laura Kayali contributed to this story.