Investment Policy Brief 18, June 2019

Legitimacy Concerns of the Proposed Multilateral Investment Court: Is Democracy Possible?

By José Manuel Alvarez Zárate

Growing concerns in Europe about international investment regimes and investor-state dispute settlement systems pushed the European Union into pursuing the creation of an investment court system and a multilateral investment court. The European Union (EU) started this reform through the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, the Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement, and by direct persuasion of other countries to start negotiations at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. Visible reasons for the change include concerns over the perception of a lack of transparency, coherence, and arbitrators’ partiality, all of which diminish the legitimacy of the multilateral investment court. Other reasons might be laid on the budgetary risks of more than 213 claims against EU countries. To address these legitimacy concerns, the EU wants to replace traditional party-appointed arbitrators with a two-tiered investment tribunal system comprised by a roster of members selected by the state parties on the treaty. This Essay argues that the creation of the multilateral investment court needs to follow democratic principles in order to be legitimate. History has shown us that the EU has abused its power in the past when implementing resolution systems. Foregoing negotiation, comment by member nations, and implementing a tribunal at its own behest has shown this. The EU multilateral investment court proposal has legitimacy deficiencies because the EU has relied on its power to impose its views so far, i.e. its proposal was not previously negotiated multilaterally amongst other member nations. It is thus possible that the appointment of the future judges to this court will likely be subject to the political constraints and veto that the International Court of Justice or World Trade Organization appointments suffer today. This could leave small economies at a disadvantage because they might be subject to permanent, politically biased judges. A superior solution would be to adopt better arbitrator disqualification rules, clear interpretation directives to avoid law creation, and stricter arbitrator qualifications.

This brief is part of the South Centre’s policy brief series focusing on international investment agreements and experiences of developing countries.

While the reform process of international investment protection treaties is evolving, it is still at a nascent stage. Systemic reforms that would safeguard the sovereign right to regulate and balance the rights and responsibilities of investors would require more concerted efforts on behalf of home and host states of investment in terms of reforming treaties and rethinking the system of dispute settlement.

Experiences of developing countries reveal that without such systemic reforms, developing countries’ ability to use foreign direct investment for industrialization and development will be impaired.

The policy brief series is intended as a tool to assist in further dialogue on needed reforms.

*** The views contained in this brief are attributable to the author/s and do not represent the institutional views of the South Centre or its Member States.

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Legitimacy Concerns of the Proposed Multilateral Investment Court: Is Democracy Possible?

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