The European Commission Concept Paper on ISDS

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The European Commission has published a concept paper on proposals for a potential future ISDS-mechanism in the TTIP.

According to the paper, a new approach in the EU investment policy is needed, where “a major part of the challenge is to make sure any system for dispute settlement is fair and independent”.

It may be observed that the paper contains no clear elaboration on how the current system is unfair and not independent. In contrast, in our experience the current system in the vast majority of cases does represent the values of fairness and independence.

As a starting point, the paper asserts that the EU has achieved a certain level of ISDS reform as embodied in the EU free trade agreements with Canada and Singapore. The paper addresses “what should be further improved”.

Firstly, the paper proposes an exclusive roster of arbitrators pre-established by State parties of the investment agreement. Several arguments could be raised against such practice. It is impossible to foresee what future disputes under an agreement will look like and what specific expertise will be required. A pre-established roster may constitute an obstacle for the dispute to be resolved by the most suitable arbitrator.

Secondly, the paper proposes an appellate mechanism “to ensure correctness and predictability”. It deserves pointing out that the ICSID Convention or the provisions of New York Convention already serves this purpose. Under the ICSID system, an award can be annulled on procedural grounds, among others if the tribunal manifestly exceeded its powers.

If what is desired is to try the whole case again at the appeal stage, it will significantly increase the time and costs associated the dispute. An appeal mechanism in itself is no safeguard to enhance predictability – this is best achieved by well formulated substantive terms.

Finally, the paper foresees the creation of “a permanent multilateral system for investment disputes”. The Commission seems to ignore that such system is already in place through the Washington Convention and the ICSID system, which has been endorsed by more than 150 states.

The impression is that the reform proposals were made based on “perception”, or more precisely, misperception on the system. A stronger emphasis on empirical evidence would better serve a higher standard in the decision-making process ahead.

For more information, read the SCC’s remarks on the Concept Paper here.