by Frank Schnittger
Wed Dec 16th, 2020 at 10:32:54 PM EST
The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) ratification process in the Irish Senate has been delayed following a split in the Green Party on the issue. Michael McDowell is a prominent barrister, senator, former deputy prime minister, ex-leader of the now defunct Progressive Democrats party and long term advocate for neo-liberal policies in Ireland.
He has excoriated the Irish government for trying to railroad the ratification process through parliament with only 55 minutes of debating time particularly as it contains controversial clauses allowing global corporations to sue sovereign states if their policies have adverse effects on their profitability.
The Irish Times has published a letter to the editor I have written in response:
A chara, – It is not often that I find myself in complete agreement with your columnist Michael McDowell (“Canada trade deal shows Government’s breathtaking arrogance”, Opinion, December 16th), but the importance of the issues he raises in relation to the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) is unarguable.
Allowing global corporations the right to sue sovereign states because their profits might be impacted by democratically mandated changes in government policy towards (say) oil exploration, mining, fracking, workers’ rights, consumer rights, taxation or public health is a fundamental subversion of democracy.
Governments make such decisions all the time and must be allowed to do so without fear of being sued by investors disadvantaged by same. Investment decisions are fundamentally about risk assessment, and it is up to investors to ensure they have properly estimated the risk and costs of any such decisions a government might make.
The right of investors to private profit cannot be allowed to trump the duty of governments to make decisions for the common good of their citizens. This principle is not diminished by the replacement, in CETA, of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration system with an “Investor Court System” outside the supervision of our national courts.
What laws will this “Investor Court System” apply, if not those passed by the Oireachtas under our Constitution? Who will appoint the judges, and on what basis? Will there be a revolving door between judicial appointments and senior executives of global corporations, or the global law firms specialising in such litigation and profiting from same?
As Michael McDowell asks, “Why should multinational corporations enjoy parity with sovereign states, especially when they demand the right to exist offshore for taxation purposes?”
CETA, like the now stalled TTIP agreement between the EU and the US, represents a power grab by mostly US-owned global corporations against the interests of democratic states. By all means let global corporations do business here, but they should do so on our terms, and subject to our laws as interpreted by our courts.
Our world is changing, with more and more power in the hands of investor-owned global corporations vis-a-vis democratic states. However, we must not formalise their de facto influence into de jure control. We wish to live as citizens ruled by governments rather than as employees and customers ruled by corporations and their shareholders. – Yours, etc,
I am aware that CETA has provisions protecting actions taken in pursuit of the Paris climate agreement, and that successful litigation under the Treaty may be rare. But why concede the principle that there should be one law and judicial system for mega rich global corporations, and another for everyone else?