Semi-transparency on TTIP as Brussels hide behind Washington
Some more light is shed on negotiations for a EU-US trade and investment agreement. Good, but not good enough the EU-Ombudsman says.
An updated website makes the complicated issue more easy to grasp than before. This is so far the most noticeable effect of a promised new transparency on TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), negotiations to create a single market and a levelled playfield for investments on both sides of the Atlantic.
The newly created portal comes with three types of documents; factsheets which are short and easy to read pieces on the different areas of negotiations, position papers which are more extensive explanations of what the EU hopes to achieve, and textual proposals; suggestions for actual texts in an agreement put on the negotiating table.
Missing out are corresponding American positions and proposals, as well as consolidated text; documents showing what the two parties have agreed to so far in different areas.
The US does not allow
The Commission claims it cannot reveal American positions including common negotiating text, due to resistance from Washington:
»On some issues such as SME (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) both sides have published proposals. But we cannot make consolidated texts public. These texts will be shared with Member States and the European Parliament but not published. This the US does not allow,« explains Ignacio Garcia Beneco, the Commission's chief TTIP-negotiator, in a telephone interview.
Mr Garcia Beneco adds, with references to ACTA and MAI, two previously failed attempts to close trade and investment agreements:
»In TTIP we have maximum transparency possible. I don’t think there ever have been any bilateral negotiations like this before.«
The EU-ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, is less impressed.
”The public will want to see”
At the very same day the new transparency was announced O'Reilly issued a statement:
"The Commission has made real efforts to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. I am aware that the Commission at times needs to talk to the US confidentially to be able to negotiate effectively. However, US resistance to publishing certain TTIP documents is not in itself sufficient to keep them from the European public. The Commission has to ensure at all times that exceptions to the EU citizens' fundamental right to get access to documents are well-founded and fully justified.“
In short: The Commission can't hide behind the US by default.
”The public will want to see also consolidated negotiating text, including the EU and the US positions. The Ombudsman calls for greater transparency also in this respect, before the negotiations end,“ the Ombudsman's office explains.
Lack of a register
In her statement Emily O'Reilly suggests 10 improvements of transparency in the conclusions based on her own-initiative inquiry initiated in July 2014.
Besides the public's interest in common negotiated text – before they are finalised – Emily O'Reilly highlights the following:
* The Commissions should establish a public register of all TTIP-documents, public and non-public, including agendas and minutes of meeting with lobbyists. Even if all documents will not be released, the public has a right to know of their existence and request access.
* EU-officials, including Commission directors, heads of units and negotiators should only meet with interest representatives who appear in the Transparency Register.
A third point, brought forward by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based research and campaign group, deals with the unequal treatment of stakeholders.
Open to some=open to all
In 2010 CEO took the Commission to court for not releasing documents from EU-India trade negotiations given to industry representatives including some 90 000 enterprises in India. In reality these documents were out in the public domain, and yet formally withheld to NGOs, CEO complained.
The General Court, which is the lower instance of the two EU-courts in Luxembourg, ruled against CEO and in favour of the Commission in July 2013. This judgement has been appealed to the supreme instance, the European Court of Justice. Here the case is labelled ”in progress”, with no further information available.
The Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly picks up on this issue in one of her ten suggestions for transparency in the TTIP-process:
”The Commission should ensure that documents that are released to certain third party stakeholders are released to everyone, thereby ensuring that all citizens are treated equally.”
Only one doc 2015?
As for transparency in practise five NGO's (Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth, Client Earth, the European Federation of Journalists and the European Environmental Bureau) submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman regarding maladministration at the European Commission of an access to TTIP-information.
Besides complaining about unfounded and/or badly motivated rejections the organisations find that the Commission failed to reply in a timely manner, failed to consider the possibility of access to parts of the requested documents, and still fails in logging documents into a public register.
The lack of a public accessible and functioning register for all Commission documents has been a complaint for years. A quick search in the official register for documents with the word ”TTIP” in the title, gives the not very convincing result of one (1) hit for 2015.