In recent months I have replied to many thousands of constituents, from all over Scotland, who have expressed concerns about the potential content of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership(TTIP), and in particular a recent vote which we had in the European Parliament, on a report drafted by our International Trade Committee (INTA).
The report had been agreed upon some months ago in Committee, controversially, by a "grand coalition" between the Socialist Group, including Labour MEPs, and the EPP Group, the largest right-wing grouping. INTA Committee MEPs from my political grouping, the Greens/European Free Alliance, voted against the compromise resolution at Committee stage, following the rejection of a range of amendments which had been tabled. The progress of this particular report towards a plenary vote has been unusually difficult, and the tactics employed by the above-mentioned "grand coalition" have led to even greater controversy.
The day before we were due to vote at a plenary session in early June, the Parliament's President, Martin Schultz, unilaterally postponed the vote and decreed that the report must go back to Committee stage. Mr Schultz took that view, he claimed, because there were too many amendments tabled by MEPs! The postponement meant that a plenary debate on the report would have been pointless without the opportunity to state our position in a vote. With no opportunity for MEPs to vote on the substance of TTIP, all that we did have in June was an unseemly procedural wrangle resulting from the unreasonable decision of the President of Parliament to deny us the much anticipated opportunity to vote.
Subsequently, the INTA Committee convened a meeting to deal with the report and amendments which had been referred back to it. With the full support of MEPs from my political grouping, a vote resulted in the original report, plus all of the amendments originally tabled at the June plenary session, being sent back to the next plenary agenda for a full debate and vote early in July. SNP MEPs supported amendments designed to radically amend the Committee report, including a proposal to delete the controversial ISDS dispute resolution mechanism and a requirement that democratic control of our public services should be protected. However, despite SNP efforts, the final text agreed by a majority of MEPs, with backing from Labour, Lib Dems and the Tories, was very disappointing and SNP MEPs voted against it. It is however important to note that this report is not legislatively binding.
The actual negotiations on TTIP are being conducted by EU and US officials. The EU negotiators are working to a mandate given to them by the member state governments. It is by no means clear when a final agreement may be reached. Indeed it is possible that the negotiations could go on for a year or two, or possible even longer. Eventually, if a TTIP agreement does emerge, and subsequently wins the backing of the EU member state governments, the European Parliament will have a binding vote on whether or not it should be accepted.
I will continue to use every available opportunity to seek to influence the eventual outcome, and I suggest that maximum pressure from now on be directed towards the European Commission and the UK Government since they are very firmly in the TTIP driving seat in the months and years ahead