Progress towards a Multilateral Investment Court? EU-momentum building and divisions in UNCITRAL Working Group III

In the past few years, discontent about Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS, a recognised shorthand for ad hoc arbitration of investor-state disputes) has been fomenting in various parts of the world but nowhere more so than within the EU. The European Commission’s focus on ISDS has been so intense that far-reaching reform has been portrayed by many as inevitable. The Commission’s proposal is for the development of a multilateral investment court system (MIC). The proposal is ambitious, but may not be realistic or achievable. Last year, the ISDS debate moved into the auspices of UNCITRAL Working Group III (WGIII). It is recognised in the report of the 35th session of WGIII[1] that this “constitute[s] a unique opportunity to make meaningful reforms in the field”. Certainly the involvement of high level government representatives from across the world and the transparent nature of WGIII’s process suggest this forum provides the conditions for systemic reform. However, the features of the WG III process expose the Commission’s plans to global scrutiny at a relatively early stage in their development, potentially before the Commission has managed to gain significant support for wholesale change. One of the EU delegation, in its capacity as an observer, noted in the 34th session[2] that the EU was “confident that UNCITRAL is a forum where a solution can be found” even where the delegates start from different positions. The question will be whether the conclusion of the deliberations will lead to the reform that the Commission wants.

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