When former EU Trade Commissioner Karl de Gucht initiated a 90-day public consultation earlier this year regarding the inclusion of an investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as a response to the growing public debate and increased concerns about the issue, the commission was swamped by almost 150,000 replies between March and July.
That figure has been widely cited in press since and was taken by anti-TTIP (and anti-CETA) activists as a compelling demonstration of widespread public opposition to the proposed trade deal. Influential U.K. blogger and technology writer Glyn Moody, for example, said that it was “an astonishing number for such an apparently obscure aspect of a trade agreement, and a clear reflection of how strongly people feel about this.” The “massive demonstration of citizen engagement,” he said was “surely not something the European Commission ever expected,” but meant “that it can have no doubt about the public’s views on this matter.”
Turns out maybe not quite so much. Last week, Reuters reported that the consultation had effectively been “hijacked” by a small number of organizations opposed to the trade deal with Washington and particularly hostile to the ISDS provision. EU officials disclosed to the news agency that over 95% of the submissions came from a handful of groups in the form of identical or very similar responses, automated or generated by forms filled in on campaign websites.
According to EU officials, a total of 569 groups participated in the consultation including: 180 non-government organizations (NGOs); 22 umbrella NGOs; 42 EU trade union groups; 11 government institutions and regulators; 66 trade associations representing EU businesses; 66 companies; 42 law firms; and 15 consulting firms. 99% of all responses came from individuals, but of that figure 79,444 “concerned citizens” refused to allow their contribution to be made public on the Commission’s website; a somewhat ironic twist considering the strident demands from anti-TTIP campaigners for greater transparency.
The Commission was to have reported back on the consultation last month but sources told Reuters that it is still divided over how to draw conclusions from such a wide range of opinions. “The public consultation has not delivered a clear-cut conclusion on investment protection. Delays to a decision are now inevitable," an EU official said.