High-profile law firms join corporate lobbying on TTIP


As the sixth round of talks between EU and US partners on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) took place in Brussels mid-July, critics of the upcoming free trade agreement guided members of the public around the neighbourhood of the EU headquarters “to expose corporate lobbying around TTIP”.

Organised by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the tour unveiled new corporate offensives, this time from law firms, in the lobbying in favour of TTIP and its highly controversial clause: the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).

The ISDS has been so controversial in Europe that it led to a temporary suspension of the TTIP talks and forced the European Commission to launch a public consultation. More than a thousand organisations, citizens’ associations, NGOs, trade unions, were so keen to take part in the consultation that the Commission had to extend the deadline.

CEO estimates that by signing up to the ISDS, the number of legal cases brought by private companies against governments before an arbitration court “would explode”.

Already more than 500 cases have been brought against 95 countries, more often than not at the expense of government taxpayers, leading to a ‘dissuasive effect’ in other countries where such clauses have been signed.

For Tom Jenkins, senior advisor at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): “There is no doubt there is aggressive corporate lobbying around TTIP, in particular for ISDS. The fact that European multinationals are using the investor-to-state system to challenge decisions to phase out nuclear energy and raise minimum wages should cause serious concern. It is neither transparent, nor democratic and is against workers’ rights. TTIP must work for the people, or it won’t work at all.”

If the ISDS was to be approved, “some 75,000 companies in the EU and the US would be entitled to use investors-to-state dispute settlements,” said Olivier Hoedeman, research and campaign coordinator at CEO.


Conflict of interest

Although large private corporations are to some extent ‘expected’ to lobby in favour of such agreements, the involvement of high-profile international law firms is more surprising.

One of them, Sidley Austin, has its headquarters in Brussels in the same building as Philip Morris - a company that previously sued Australia and Uruguay over unbranded cigarettes - right in front of the European Parliament and just a ten-minute walk from the European Commission, which leads the talks for the European side.

“Sidley Austin is one of the law firms helping companies prepare the cases and deliver the ‘arbitrators’, or the judges of these private tribunals, with a massive conflict of interest because the same law firms that are representing the clients also deliver the arbitrators,” Hoedeman explained.

“Of course, the government that has to defend itself in these cases also has to hire a specialised lawyer.”

Knowing that the average rate of these firms is US$1000 per hour, the costs rapidly become massive for the countries.

These stakeholders “demand from the Commission that the ISDS be kept in an undiluted form”.

To double the pressure over the EU institutions, law firms involved in the “arbitration business” have joined forces by setting up a brand-new think tank to “counter citizens’ campaigning”, under the name of European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA).

According to news reports, EFILA was established on 1 July 2014 but there is scare information about it online. The EFILA does not have its own website; in fact the internet presence it has is the LinkedIn profile of its newly designated secretary general’s, Nikos Lavranos.

For Hoedeman, the think tank is “dedicated at convincing the EU policy makers that ISDS is indispensable and should not be watered down”.


Agribusiness – the biggest lobbyist

CEO has also published figures unveiling which sector has been the most active in lobbying the European Commission in favour of the transatlantic deal in the preparatory phase.

According to the NGO, the agribusiness sector has been by far the most active in pressuring the EU executive to go forward with TTIP, followed by the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

CEO analysis also shows that there has been an absolute predominance of meetings with the private sector (92 per cent) compared to the public sector (4 per cent).

Figures also show that EU business lobbies such as Business Europe and the German business lobbies are the most supportive of TTIP. Of all the groups that have lobbied for TTIP, 30 per cent are absent from the European Transparency Register, which works on a voluntary basis.

As new information about the dangers of TTIP emerges, the public outcry is spreading to more and more countries, albeit for different reasons.

In the United Kingdom for example, the main concern is the privatisation of the National Health Service. In early July, this prospect triggered for the first time massive protests and actions in all major cities in the UK against the transatlantic partnership, demanding that it be “scrapped entirely”.