Open Europe Blog

Cecilia Malmström during her hearing today

The European Parliament kicked off its hearings of Commission nominees today, with most of the attention focused on Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström, the current Home Affairs Commissioner who has been handed the hugely important Trade portfolio. The hearing was eagerly anticipated due to the controversy around certain aspects of the EU-Canada (CETA) and EU-US (TTIP) free trade deals; specifically around investor safeguard clauses (ISDS).

Indeed, the hearing managed to make waves in Germany (where the issue is particularly sensitive), after Malmström’s written response to initial questions from MEPs suggested that she rejected the need for ISDS in TTIP. German Green MEP Sven Giegold posted the relevant section on his website:

As the President-elect Juncker has committed himself to in his Political Guidelines…”no limitation of the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States will be accepted in [TTIP]; this clearly means that no Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism will be part of that agreement.”

However, this version – sent out to MEPs on Friday – was subsequently re-called, and the new version published on the Commission’s website now reads:

As the President-elect Juncker has committed himself to in his Political Guidelines… he will “not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States is limited by special regimes for investor disputes.”

In other words, a clear change from ruling out ISDS altogether to a much more qualified acceptance. This change was subject to much speculation on Twitter, and Malmström herself claimed it was “simply the wrong version”.

However, at today’s hearing, Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake claimed that the Microsoft Word version sent out on Friday contained ‘track changes’ made by none other than Martin Selmayr, Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff (seemingly confirming rumours in Brussels about Selmayr’s “Rasputin-like qualities”). Malmström replied that she had agreed to Juncker’s office inserting a quote from Juncker and tried to brush off the affair as a “misunderstanding” and an “over-interpretation”, basically denying that she and Juncker were at odds over the ISDS question.

In her opening remarks and in answers to questions, Malmström strongly endorsed the principle of free trade and TTIP specifically, which rather dominated the debate, while also defending European social and environmental standards (there is always something for everyone in the European Parliament). On ISDS, she defended the principle, while clarifying that she was committed to transparency and qualifications – such as protections for national parliaments to legislate in the national interest. She claimed that there was no need to renegotiate ISDS in CETA, as without it the deal could fall apart, that the EU itself would want to include ISDS in future agreements with other parties, but added that possibly it could be excluded altogether from TTIP – so far from a coherent line overall.

Malmström put in a solid performance – with the right mixture of assertiveness and reassurance – and it is certainly good to have a pro-trade voice in that role. However, as the shenanigans over her written answers demonstrate, there are questions over whether Malmström and Juncker are on the same page on TTIP.

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