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07 January 2015
Latest transparency moves: the battle continues in Brussels
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström today announced the publication of several EU legal texts and position papers, following on from her press conference in November in which she stated her intentions to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. The effort forms part of a wider strategy to claw back support for the TTIP deal, after an year of intense debate and opposition.
Today’s publication offers further insight into some of the EU intentions in TTIP, with textual proposals published on technical barrier to trade, food safety and animal and plant health, as well as SMEs, competition policy issues and Rules of Origin. EU position papers on sustainable development, vehicles, and others, have also been published while a range of fact sheets accompany many sectorial areas. [Link to latest published texts here.]
New measures, big implications.
Malmström confirmed today that further EU TTIP documentation will be made available as the year progresses, albeit with the careful cherry picking of DG Trade, but was also quick to caution that some areas are too sensitive to be made public, including tariff and market access offers.
The continuing push toward publishing documents is a clear sign that the public pressure surrounding the TTIP talks is beginning (at least a little) to pay off. While these steps are limited to date, the implications for the future could prove beneficial.
Firstly, it is clear that the Commission has now accepted the fact that there were genuine concerns surrounding transparency from the time the talks were first announced and during the last 18 months of formal negotiations. The effort to appear more transparent under the new Commission is testament to that acceptance. Secondly, that there is now common understanding around the problem, will help to move us in the right direction going forward, mainly to reach the ultimate goal of full transparency for TTIP and EU trade policy in the future.
But while the publishing of more documentation is welcome, the same issues that we presented in November still hold true when it comes to why the Commission failed to act until now, and what these transparency measures will mean in practice. [READ: Full TTIP transparency: much more than opening a door.]
Ombudsman weighs in: more to be done
Unlikely by coincidence, the EU Ombudsman’s own-initiative inquiry on TTIP transparency, launched last year, was also published this morning before Malmström’s press conference to announce the new measures.
Emily O’Reilly’s office received 315 submissions and over 6000 emails to the consultation, resulting in a lengthly assessment published by the office today [read here]. O’Reilly notes that:
“The responses to the Ombudsman's public consultation confirm that citizens expect and demand the right to know and to participate when it comes to TTIP” and goes on to say that the Commission needs to take a proactive approach to transparency and public access to documents.
The Ombudsman’s inquiry offers a new roadmap for the Commission on how best to reach beyond the measures announced today, which may help to regain public confidence in the Commission’s handling of the negotiation process to date.
She also called for the scrapping of the controversial reading room, in which all MEPs were granted access to in November, but poses logistical and practical issues. She has suggested replacing it with an “online secured access tool” which would allow comments and modifications from advisory group members and experts in different sectors.
The Commission’s transparency initiative remains incomplete for one key reason: the US need to act too. As it stands, the public has not been allowed to get the full picture as many balls lie in America’s court. For instance, we don’t know if the EU legal texts published today were agreed to by the US as the basis of the negotiations, or how relevant they now are.
Many of the EU proposals date back to March 2014, and we’ve had three more rounds of negotiations since then. It is inevitable that positions have changed over the course of negotiations, meaning that the initial position texts will continue to decrease in importance as the talks continue. We know nothing about what changes have been made, if issues have been added or withdrawn, or how considerable things have moved on since the EU’s first textual proposals.
Only by publishing the consolidated text, which show the EU and US defending positions, will we be able to get a clearer understanding of the negotiation process. To date, the Commission has shied away from getting the US side to accept making this text public, despite such texts being readily available in past UN-led negotiations, or even past trade agreements, such as the FTAA in the 1990s.
The Ombudsman has alluded to the need for this in her report today, noting that the Commission should "Inform the US of the importance of making, in particular, common negotiating texts available to the public before the TTIP agreement is finalized".
We would go one step further and demand that the actual version of the consolidated negotiating text is made available to law-makers after each negotiation round, as was the case in the US negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Only then can law-makers, political leaders, experts and the public truly get an understanding of how the TTIP talks continue to develop behind closed doors.