(CN) – Advancing a citizen petition to stop the EU’s negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the European General Court on Wednesday rejected claims that the petition interferes, rather than participates, in the legislative process.
EU lawmakers designed the European citizens’ petition process as a way to give EU residents a say in policy-making. Groups can bring petitions asking lawmakers to act on issues important to them to the European Commission, which either rejects them as outside the legislative scope or approves them for signature-gathering.
Groups whose petitions have been approved have a year to gather at least 1 million signatures from citizens in at least seven member states. If they’re successful, the commission is tasked with bringing the citizens’ request to lawmakers for action.
In July 2014, a group tried to register their European citizens’ petition titled “Stop TTIP” for signature-gathering. The group’s goal is to get lawmakers to order the commission to stop free-trade negotiations with the United States and not consummate successful trade negotiations with Canada.
According to the group, the trade agreements contain fatal flaws in regard to dispute resolution and regulatory cooperation. Meanwhile, the group also objects to the opaque nature of the negotiations and fear that if enacted, the agreements will weaken EU rules on employment, environment, consumer and social protections, and will lead to deregulation of public services.
In September 2014, the commission refused to register the petition for circulation, finding the group’s demands fell outside the scope of what the regulatory agency is allowed to propose to lawmakers.
The group sued, and on Wednesday the EU’s lower court ordered the commission to approve the petition for circulation. The court noted that two international agreements, both with the prospect of changing the legal order of the EU, are definitely legal acts on which citizens should have a say.
And contrary to the commission’s position that the citizens’ petition amounts to improper meddling in a legislative procedure, the court said the petition is actually a democratic debate on trade agreements – a debate that should be had before negotiations are completed and treaties are signed.
The Luxembourg-court also rejected the commission’s fears that circulating the petition would deprive the EU of adopting the free-trade agreements, should lawmakers ultimately decide that it’s in the best interest of the union.
The court’s opinion was not made available in English by press time.