A few weeks ago, we wrote how many — even the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer — seem to think it’s time for corporate sovereignty, also called “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS), to go. For some reason the European Commission disagrees. As Techdirt readers may recall, after receiving a bloody nose in a public consultation about corporate sovereignty, the Commission announced to great fanfare that it was “replacing” ISDS with something called the Investment Court System (ICS). In fact, this amounted to little more than putting lipstick on the ISDS pig, since ICS suffered from the same fundamental flaw: it gave companies unique rights to sue countries in a supra-national court. The EU is still plugging away at the ICS idea, and it now wants to go further by creating a truly global corporate sovereignty system enforced by a new Multilateral Investment Court (pdf), an initiative formally launched a couple of months ago:
the [EU’s] approach since 2015 has been to institutionalise the system for the resolution of investment disputes in EU trade and investment agreements through the inclusion of the Investment Court System (ICS). However, due to its bilateral nature, the ICS cannot fully address all the aforementioned problems. Moreover, the inclusion of ICSs in [EU] agreements has costs in terms of administrative complexity and budgetary impact.
The multilateral investment court initiative aims at setting up a framework for the resolution of international investment disputes that is permanent, independent and legitimate; predictable in delivering consistent case-law; allowing for an appeal of decisions; cost-effective; transparent and efficient proceedings and allowing for third party interventions (including for example interested environmental or labour organisations).
When the ICS was first proposed, the German Association of Judges, which Wikipedia describes as “the largest professional organization of judges and public prosecutors in Germany”, ripped it to shreds. The same august body has just meted out similar treatment to the Multilateral Investment Court, and has asked the German government “to deny the European Commission the required mandate to negotiate the establishment of a Multinational Investment Court (MIC).”
The document, originally in German, and available in an unofficial translation by EuroMinds Linguistics (pdf), contains a devastating analysis of the MIC and its flaws. For example, it points out that international investment protection law is characterized by a “lack of substantive law principles”. That is, there are no global investment laws that the MIC could apply when deciding cases. The MIC would effectively be making it up as it went along. The German Association of Judges points out why the situation would be even worse for the MIC than for the ICS or ISDS tribunals:
Because of [the arbitration courts’] position, they can override decisions of national administrations and courts in favour of an investor. This exercise of power, exercised by an arbitral tribunal, has thus far been limited to the enforcement of individual arbitral awards. However, it would be considerably strengthened if the arbitral tribunals were upgraded to an MIC with permanent jurisdiction, which would operate under an international convention. Together with the investment protection agreements, as part of European law, the MIC Convention will be recognised by international law and can thus bind national courts. This will make the MIC a standard-setting organization.
In other words, the MIC would be able to create what amount to global laws, without any democratic input or scrutiny. The document also explains — as many have before — why special investor courts are unnecessary:
The protection of individual goods, including those of investors, is the daily work of the judges of all judicial courts and instances. In principle, these rights can also be claimed by foreign investors.
the best investor protection is a functioning, uncorrupted administration and jurisdiction and a democratic legislative process. It is the task of every investor to determine this; they can avoid investments in countries that do not fulfil these standards. If they, nonetheless, take the risk, no special protection is necessary.
Recognizing that the German government and European Commission will probably try to go ahead with the MIC initiative anyway, the German Association of Judges makes a number of sensible suggestions for improving the idea, and limiting the possible damage. However, the real solution would be for the EU to join other, wiser nations and abolish the system completely.