Jan 29 2014

New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

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New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

For the last 50 years the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the European Union’s (EU) most important and costly common policy. This explains why traditionally it has taken a large part of the EU’s budget, although the percentage has steadily declined over recent years

It is time to change priorities and reform the CAP.  I would like EU food to be produced in a more sustainable way, ensuring EU farming enhances the environment and biodiversity, mitigates climate change and is animal welfare friendly.

It is true that British farmers invest huge amounts of time and effort in delivering quality foods to the highest safety, environmental and animal welfare standards.  I would like to see these high UK standards practiced across the EU, so that our farmers are not put at a competitive disadvantage.

We must raise the game across the field. We can do by working together with other Member States by meshing the rules. This would, I believe, give consumers confidence as well as enjoyment and sustenance from the food they eat. Of course, any change in rules must be accompanied by proper enforcement procedures to ensure a level playing field across the EU.

Unfortunately successive CAP reforms have set a direction of travel away from production linked support towards greater competitiveness and a greater focus on the delivery of public benefits. We want to see this process continued whilst maintaining quality and efficiency.

The CAP must not just work in the interests of farmers, but work in the interests of society at large, meeting the social, economic and specifically environmental concerns facing European rural communities.

As well as this, we need to stick to our commitment of supporting the EU’s responsibilities towards developing countries. All the trade-distorting elements of the CAP, such as export subsidies, which are damaging to Least Developed Countries, must be phased out as soon as possible.

Fairness in supply chains by cutting out so called ‘unfair trading practices’ between retailers and their direct suppliers would be a place to start.

I would like to see relations between farmers, processors and supermarkets improved.  This could include: a tougher approach on supermarkets; a more rigorous enforcement of competition rules; a greater transparency in food prices, etc.

However, it is also important that our local farmers producing food at the beginning of the food chain get the price they deserve and are guaranteed fair and honest prices by the supermarkets that have enormous power and leverage.

The EU already offers protection under the Protected Food Names (PFN) scheme. Under this system a named product is given legal protection against imitation in and outside of the EU and producers benefit from having a raised awareness of their product throughout Europe.

Scotland already has 12 PFNs (Stornoway Black Pudding, Scottish Wild Salmon, Shetland Lamb, Orkney Beef, Orkney Lamb, Scottish Farmed Salmon, Scotch Lamb, Scotch Beef, Arbroath Smokie, Native Shetland Wool, Teviotdale Cheese, Bonchester Cheese).

Ideally I would like to see the registration simplified to encourage more farmers to apply and benefit from the protection.

All of this would amount a new approach to the CAP and help towards a secure future for Scotland’s agriculture

 

 

 

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Dec 09 2013

Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

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Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

A shocking new Report has just been released in Brussels which shows.   Over 124 million people in the European Union – or almost a quarter of its entire population – live under the threat of poverty or social exclusion.

Last year, 124.5 million people, or 24.8 percent of Europe’s population were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 24.3 percent in 2011 and 23.7 percent in 2008, according to a document published earlier in the week.

The data included people who were falling within at least one of the three categories: at-risk-of-poverty, severely materially deprived or living in households with very low work intensity.

Bulgaria (49 percent), Romania (42 percent) and Latvia (37 percent) top the list, followed by Greece, Lithuania and Hungary. In comparison, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (both 15 percent), Finland (17 percent), Sweden and Luxemburg (both 18 percent) can boast the lowest number of people at risk of poverty.

However, even original Member States like Italy are struggling more than ever. Some 18.2 million -Italians are facing poverty – that is the highest number in the European union (EU), even though proportionally one third of the country seems to be doing not too bad.

With the Italian economy going through its longest recession since the World War II, over 12 percent of adults are unemployed, while four out of ten young people don’t have a job. There are no official figures for the homeless.

The report provides existing examples to bring home the human cost: Marco, 46, used to work as a pizza maker – many Italians used to call it ‘the golden skill’ which would always get you work in Rome. However, it did not hold true for Marco, who was sacked one day and has not been hired since. He has been living on the street for about four years now and says he sees little chance of improving his life:

When you live on the street, survival is what takes up most of your time. Simply getting a shower is a challenge. It takes so much time to take care of yourself as a normal person. You reach the end of the day and you’re exhausted and depressed,”  Marco told the report compilers.

With the number of those homeless increasing, more Italians are beginning to turn to charity and humanitarian aid for help.

Pietro Zezza is a volunteer at Caritas Food Emporium in Rome – a place where people can get food for free explained

Two years ago we had about 55 percent of foreigners and 45 percent of Italians coming here,” he said. “Today we have about 65 percent of Italians and 35 percent of foreigners. So the figures are reversing.

Groceries from the shelves of this centre are given in exchange for points allocated to low income families by the global charity network Caritas. Most of the food is near its expiration date, except for food specially labeled aid.

Caritas is raising the alarm, stressing that around one third of all Italian children are now at risk of poverty and are lacking basic essentials such as protein-rich foods, heating and clothes.

If this is happening in Italy it is happening in the other founder EU Member States.  It is time for anti-poverty measure to take a leap up the political agenda!

 

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Dec 04 2013

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Proper Apprenticeships

Apprentices in the European Union (EU) are not happy with their lot.  According to a Eurobarometer, published on 26 November, almost six out of ten trainees (59%) did not receive any payment during their last traineeship. Among those who were paid, less than half felt that it was enough to cover basic living cots. Four out of ten trainees did not have a traineeship agreement or written contract with the organisation or company. Close to 25% reported that their working conditions were different to those of regular employees and 20% considered that they did not learn anything useful on a professional level during the course of their traineeship.

To combat this failure the European Commission has recommended that Member States increase the transparency of conditions – such as payment – for traineeships across the EU. After demonstrations of the poor quality of traineeships in the EU, the Commission will submit a proposal for a Council recommendation on a quality framework for traineeships that are not university-related on 4 December.

 The proposal calls for the implementation of a written convention stating the learning objectives, working conditions, rights and obligations of each party and duration of the traineeship that should not exceed six months.

 According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, published on 26 November, almost a third of traineeships were considered to be poor quality in terms of the training content and working conditions. ‘Traineeships have become an important entry point into the labour market for young people [...] they must offer quality learning content and adequate working conditions, and should not be a cheap substitute for regular job’.   

 The proposal for a Council recommendation for apprenticeships aims to provide, by 2014, a framework for apprenticeships where the trainee and traineeship provider decide on a set working week without intervention from a third party, and which includes a learning aspect in order to acquire practical experience before holding down a regular job.

 The non-binding text establishes guidelines to allow trainees to benefit from a high-quality work experience under safe conditions. These common quality standards cover the traineeship agreement, the recognition of a traineeship, the demands for transparency and the participation of social partners.

 The Commission proposes that from now on, all apprenticeships should be based on a written agreement signed beforehand by the trainee and the traineeship provider. This document should state the rights and obligations of each party, including the applicable criteria for working hours, social security (accident, illness).

 

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Nov 18 2013

United front on unfair CAP Allocation to Scotland

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United front on unfair CAP Allocation to Scotland

Last week the UK Governments Agriculture Minister, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Secretary of State Owen Paterson, announced the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget allocations for Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.

Every opposition politician in Scotland plus the National Farmers Union (NFU) was deeply disappointed in that announcement.  It failed to recognise a European requirement on convergence of farm support rates.  One element of the CAP Reform deal agreed during the summer was a desire to see support payment rates across the EU converge towards the EU average of €196 per hectare.  The current Scottish average is closer to €100 per hectare and Scotland is the only region within the UK where average payments are below the EU average.

Thus we all believed there would be an announcement that Scottish farming would be getting the lion’s share of this funding.  Not so!

As part of the convergence process, the UK has received an uplift in its CAP budget allocation.  As low payment rates in Scotland were the main reason for the uplift, NFU Scotland and others – including cross-party support from within the Scottish Parliament – believed Scottish agriculture should have been the main beneficiary of the additional EU money to allow the convergence requirement to be addressed.  That was not reflected in Friday’s budget announcement.

A cross-party letter has been sent to the UK Government calling for about €230 million in extra EU farming subsidies to be allocated to Scotland.

The additional Common Agricultural Policy cash, known as the ‘convergence uplift’, is worth up to €60 million a year – the equivalent of about €230 million over the whole budget period – and the only reason that the UK qualifies for the uplift is because of Scotland’s low payments under the current system.

Addressed to the UK Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson and copied to Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, the cross-party letter follows a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament where MSPs agreed that the UK’s full uplift should come to Scotland in its entirety.

The letter – signed by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment; Claire Baker, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for Scottish Labour; Alex Fergusson, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives; and Tavish Scott, Rural Affairs Spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats – states:

“We are writing to express cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament on an issue relating to the imminent decision on the within-UK allocation of the UK’s CAP budget receipts for 2014 to 2020: namely, the need for the UK’s external convergence receipts under CAP Pillar 1 to be allocated to Scotland.

“These receipts only exist because of Scotland’s current position. All other parts of the UK are above the threshold set by the EU for external convergence, and it is only because of Scotland’s extremely low average level of Pillar 1 payments per hectare that the UK as a whole fell below the threshold and qualified for an external convergence uplift. Passing on this uplift to Scotland will also not entail any deductions at all for farming colleagues in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“The European methodology focussed entirely on per-hectare levels of payment, and the within-UK decision must be on the same basis.

“It is helpful that the European Commission has quantified the uplift precisely, so that it is possible to know exactly how much funding is involved and avoid any risk of cutting into funding which should correctly go to farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We urge you to acknowledge that the only fair outcome on the external convergence funding is for it to come to Scotland, the only part of the UK to be below the EU’s threshold.’

The sooner the UK Government listen to our united front on European Agricultural funding for Scottish farmers the better!

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Oct 28 2013

Europe Must Give Hope

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Europe Must Give Hope

It is now less than six months till the next European Parliament Elections.  In May 2014, there will be elections for a new European Parliament.  The outcome of the Parliamentary elections will not only decide who makes policy in the Strasbourg Parliament it will determine who leads the new European Commission.

One thing is clear at present: Europe is not working – we have to get it back on track.  The global crisis has not only led to failing banks, even states themselves have suffered the fallout of the banking crisis, leading to thousands of people losing their jobs and savings.

The European Commission has imposed austerity with such rigour that we see massive protests in the streets, especially in southern Europe.

Unfortunately it is the younger generation has been hit most cruelly by the crisis.  Youth unemployment has reached a level no one would have believed just a few years ago.

We need a different vision for Europe – a progressive and socially balanced Europe. The Europe of today is being eroded and is in a state of despair, with many citizens losing trust in their governments. 

 The European social model, based on solidarity and co-operation, is under attack. The 50 years of peace that the EU has brought are no longer enough to compensate for its weakness in tackling the problems which people are experiencing today.

 Although we welcome the first feeble signs of recovery, Europe is still in a deep crisis: economically, socially and politically. For us, true recovery starts when employment is going up and people have jobs they can make a living from. The slow growth expected for the next months and years will not be enough to make the social, psychological and even health consequences of the economic crisis disappear. We need to put right the distorted distribution of incomes and reduce income gaps between rich and poor, between men and women, and between migrants and nonmigrants.  That will need budget and tax policies based on fairness, which bring down the debts of EU countries by boosting growth and jobs.

 For our alliance of progressive forces, social equality and economic efficiency go hand in hand. We are fighting for a Europe based on solidarity – among European countries and among our people.

 Throughout the crisis, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has fought against the damaging conservative obsession with cuts in public services and investment. We have offered a different, more forward-looking political agenda.

We have also started, through our work in the European Parliament, to construct new rules for the financial sector. This will reduce the instability we have all suffered because of deregulated financial markets. But more must still be done to bring stability, growth and employment back to our European economy.

To become a driver for jobs and growth Europe needs an industrial renaissance to cut unemployment and create decent, skilled jobs – that’s our hope for the future!

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Oct 23 2013

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Health

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The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Health

 I recently came upon an extremely interesting presentation by Christopher Birt which analyzed the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on the health of EU citizens.  He argues that the origins of the CAP were in the famine and starvation in Europe in 1940s and post-war rationing which was retained in UK to feed Germany. The first aim of European agricultural policy was to ensure that this never happened again.  ‘Never again’ was a common theme after World War 11

The Common Agricultural Policy was and is designed to protect the rural economy, and  to ensure food self-sufficiency. It is based on support to the production of certain commodities.  In the first 20 years this led to ‘beef mountains’, ‘milk lakes’, ‘butter mountains’, etc., CAP responses included milk quotas, free butter for hospitals etc. However, there was an agreement in 2003 to ‘uncouple’ production and subsidy; this was implemented from early 2005. Farm support is now linked to environmental protection, food safety, and animal welfare standards, etc., but there has been no real incentive to alter production to meet changing needs.

There are now three main components of CAP: direct ‘whole farm payments’; price guarantees to producers, and use of subsidy to manipulate market, e.g. free butter for hospitals, subsidised school milk, school fruit scheme, purchase of wine for distillation, etc.

Heart disease is now considered to be one of the greatest killers in modern society, with diet explaining over 50% of deaths from heart disease.  The Common Agricultural Policy helps define our diet.

Sugar is a big killer, known as ‘white death’ in some circles.  At world price no European production of sugar would be economic. However, the creation of an artificial high price is in the interests of producers. There is a large export subsidy and import tax; all this lowers world price and hits producers in the developing world.  There is a recent World Trade Organisation agreement to reduce export taxes (and therefore internal EU price) by a third – however surprise, surprise it has not yet implemented.

 It is also suspected that the overconsumption of beef can be detrimental to our health.  There is a massive subsidy (‘over 90% of income’ for some farmers), so a massive market has developed for ‘cheap’ beef. This diverts grain production to animal food, and results in massive grain and soya imports from developing countries, large quantities of mass-produced home- produced and imported beef, cheap burgers full of saturated fat, and a high incidence and death rate from Coronary Heart Disease throughout the EU.

Milk can be good for healthy young bones but dairy fat is the principal cause of high levels of population means serum cholesterol. There is massive subsidy to milk producers, massive overproduction, of which Commission is required to dispose. The public are encouraged to buy low fat dairy products, but the residual (saturated) dairy fat is used in cakes, pies, pastries, etc.

 Cereals are good for us and should be a cheap plentiful supply of fibre and micronutrients, while also being low in fat content. There is a high subsidy and maintenance of high price. Cereal production is diverted to support meat factory farming, but it should provide a cheap basis for a healthy human diet.

 Everyone knows we should get our ‘5 a day’.  However, there was no subsidy until recently, but there has been regular destruction of cheap production to maintain high price. Fruit and vegetables can now be included within the ‘whole farm payment’ scheme. There is considerable under-production in relation to need. Thus there is insufficient EU production to support ‘5 a day’ if there were 100% take-up in the UK alone!

 Fruit and vegetables protect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers, and the World Health Organisation recommends at least 400g fruit and vegetables (excluding potato) daily.

 Although tobacco is bad for us and direct subsidies to farmers for tobacco production ended in 2010 tobacco can still be grown within the ‘whole farm payments’ scheme!

All in all the  CAP has not had a good effect on health and has led to: over-consumption of saturated fat-rich beef; over-consumption of saturated fat-rich dairy products; over consumption of saturated fat-rich cakes, pies, pastries, etc; under-consumption of fruit, vegetables and cereals; under-consumption of vegetable protein products containing ‘healthy’ fats; overproduction of high tar tobacco (exported to developing countries), and a high incidence and death rate from CVDs and cancers, both in EU and beyond.

 The EU per capita consumption of protein from animal food products is more than double the world’s average.

 

 

 

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Oct 11 2013

Labour European MPs vote to save millions with call for single-seat Parliament!

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Labour European MPs vote to save millions with call for single-seat Parliament!

 

Labour’s plan to end the shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg once a month continued today with a successful vote on a move to a single seat.

 

Each year over £150m is spent on having a monthly session of the Parliament in Strasbourg.

 

MEPs have voted overwhelmingly on several occasions in favour of a single seat for the European Parliament, to end this travelling circus.

 

Scotland is one of the places furthest away from Strasbourg but that it was in Edinburgh that the deal was done between UK Conservative Leader John Major and French President François Mitterrand to have two seats, one of which would be in Strasbourg.

 

This is sheer waste!

 

That is why we are calling, once again, for a roadmap towards a single seat. The decision is up to member state governments; it’s time they listened to MEPs as well as our constituents, and do something about it.

 

We need to be pushing for savings in the European Parliament’s budget to demonstrate value for money for taxpayers.

 

It’s estimated that the 818km round trip creates 19,000 tonnes of CO2 each session.   MEPs voted to cut CO2 across the EU by 40% by 2030 – the amount of their own CO2 emissions which could be saved by having a single seat.

 

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Oct 04 2013

Welcome news as ECJ upholds EU ban on import of seal products.

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Great news this week as the European Court of Justice has upheld the EU ban on the import of seal products. Having campaigned for years to bring about this legislation I am very pleased that the Court has dismissed objections from Canadian hunters and Inuits to reverse EU legislation. Hopefully this will be the final challenge to the EU’s legitimate and humane law.

 

When the seal ban was introduced in 2009 it provided a derogation for Inuits to allow them to continue exporting their seal products to the EU provided the sealskin and fur was from Inuit hunts which contribute to indigenous communities’ subsistence.

 

However Inuits felt this would still restrict their ability to trade with the EU, and launched an appeal for the legislation to be annulled. The General Court and then the Court of Justice have both ruled that it is not technically possible for challenges to be brought against the EU seal ban under this procedure. For multiple technical and procedural reasons, EU legislation adopted by the Council and Parliament as a basic legislative act cannot be challenged by individuals without clear indications that the law has direct and individual concern to them.

 

Having rejected the appeal, the seal ban now remains fully in force across the EU. I was appalled by the sight of the Canadian seal hunt when I visited several years ago, including the skinning alive of seals and the abandonment of baby seals to slowly die. The EU should not be complicit in the blood on the icefields.

 

Meanwhile Canada continues to pursue its case against the EU at the WTO, claiming the seal ban is against trade rules. The Arctic Council, of which Canada currently holds the rotating presidency, has recently rejected the EU’s application for observer status on the Council, despite accepting China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and several NGOs.

 

More and more countries are rejecting the cruel product of barbaric seal hunts, with Russia one of the most recent countries to bring in a seal ban. Now that the Court has reached its verdict it is only right that Canada withdraws its WTO challenge, admits the EU as an Observer to the Arctic Council and allows EU-Canada focus to remain on strengthening our economic ties and completing the ongoing negotiations for an EU-Canada trade agreement.

 

 

 

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Aug 19 2013

Is EU Recovery in Sight?

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Is EU Recovery in Sight?

 

The latest EU official figures showing a sharp increase in industrial production amongst the Eurozone countries have given a boost to widely-held expectations that the single currency region has finally emerged from recession. However, there are also notes of caution from some of my colleagues and economists wary of an overly optimistic reading of the numbers.

Industrial production is up 0.7 per cent in June compared with May – much better than the previous month’s 0.3 per cent decline, according to Eurostat. June was the fifth positive number in seven months, and there was also a year-on-year increase of 0.3 per cent in the 12 months to June 2013.

The figures show that Ireland was the best performer, posting an 8.7 per cent monthly rise in industrial production in June, while Germany and Greece both managed a 2.5 per cent increase. By contrast the Netherlands, Portugal and France saw industrial production fall over the same period, by 4.1 per cent, 2.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively – revealing the fragility of the recovery, and the varying performances of member states.

However, the preliminary gross domestic product numbers due out soon are anticipated to show that the euro area economy has moved out of recession and returned to growth.
On the down side one senior MEP (Member of the European Parliament) warned against any complacency. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the assembly’s Socialists and Democrats said: ‘There are some feeble signs of growth in the Eurozone, but we should not be overly optimistic’.  He believes that the euro area’s record unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent will prevent the economic rebound from gaining real momentum.

‘Growth without jobs will not last and is not acceptable for the people of Europe, who face falling living standards and continuing uncertainty,’ my colleague said. ‘An economic recovery without new jobs – in old and new industries – will only be a short lived upward blip in a continuing downward spiral. We need a genuinely effective employment politic instead, to get people into decent, long-term jobs.’

A spokesperson from the Capital Economics think-tank, based in London, was also cautious. Referring to today’s positive industrial production figures and a better-than-expected rise in the ZEW index of investor sentiment in Germany, he said: ‘These figures support the view that the Eurozone as a whole may have left recession in quarter two. But we doubt that this will mark the start of a strong and sustained recovery.’

He added that the industrial production figures appeared: ‘…mainly to be down to firms building up their inventories in expectation of demand rising in the future, rather than a pick-up in orders. Given this, and the fact that the industrial surveys still only point to small rises in production at best, the pace of expansion may soon ease.’

All in all things are beginning to look a bit more hopeful and for that alone we should be pleased!

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Aug 13 2013

Plain Talking on Plain Packaging

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Plain Talking on Plain Packaging

What was the real reason plain packaging was scrapped, and the extraordinary power the government is willing to cede to large corporations?

Looking to Australia, where plain packaging was introduced six months ago, the government concluded there is “considerable legal uncertainty” over the legislation. What is happening in Australia, which Lynton Crosby may have dropped into conversation, is that the tobacco giant Phillip Morris is suing the Australian government and seeking a significant payout of taxpayers’ money to compensate them for the inconvenience of wrapping their cigarettes in plain packaging.

Phillip Morris can sue the Australian government because of a mechanism in Australia’s investment agreements which allow private companies to take legal action against the government if they feel the terms of the investment agreement have been broken. The mechanism is known as the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS has been used for decades in investment agreements all over the world, including British agreements. Originally they were intended to protect British investments abroad and ensure foreign governments could not treat UK investors unfairly.

The use of ISDS has spun wildly out of control and is now being wielded by multinational corporations to challenge any environmental and health legislation they dislike. Large companies can simply base their legal challenge from whichever country has the weakest investment agreement: Phillip Morris is using its Hong Kong subsidiary to challenge plain packaging under the Hong Kong – Australia investment agreement.

The plain packaging debacle was the last straw for Australia, which recently announced it is scrapping all ISDS provisions in future investment agreements as it cedes too much power to companies which use it to undermine legislation for the public good.

In other countries things are looking decidedly muddier. A worrying trend of the “chilling effect” on legislating has been identified: governments fearful of litigation under ISDS have pulled back from health and environment legislation. And suddenly Cameron’s “considerable legal uncertainty” looks decidedly chilly.

The obvious answer is to reform or scrap ISDS and revert to the normal legal channels for investors and states to resolve disputes. And the timing couldn’t be better. Investment policy became a competence of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty, and EU Member States are working with the Commission to draw up single investment agreements between the EU and third countries. Canada and Singapore are the first countries expected to sign investment agreements with the EU. The drafting of brand-new agreements is the perfect opportunity for the EU to learn from past experiences and draw up modern, fit-for-purpose agreements without ISDS. Alas, the Tory-led government together with the centre-right majority in the European Commission and national European capitals has agreed ISDS is here to stay. The centre-left in the European Parliament is strongly resisting but with a centre-right majority here too we are unlikely to rally enough support.

Cameron will be desperately hoping the plain packaging debacle has blown over when Parliament returns from the summer recess. But as the post-heatwave chill sets in this autumn the government has big questions to answer over its historic opportunity to reform the power Big Tobacco has over health legislation; and why instead it appears to have rolled over and bowed to the pressure of some of the world’s largest companies.

 

 

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