22 September 2014

EU Ombudsman opens public consultation on transparency in TTIP

Public are invited to submit proposals by October 31

Simon McKeagney, Editor

The office of the EU Ombudsman has announced a public consultation in relation to transparency and public participation in TTIP, as part of one of two own-initiative inquiries launched on July 29 against the Council and Commission. 

Organisations and civil society will have until October 31 2014 to submit proposals to the Ombudsman’s office that relate specifically to Commission efforts to enhance transparency and public participation in the ongoing talks. In a press release, released on Friday, the Ombudsman’s office said: 

‘The outcome of the TTIP negotiations could have a significant impact on the lives of citizens. The aim of the Ombudsman's inquiry is to help ensure that the public can follow the progress of these talks and contribute to shaping their outcome.’

On July 29, Emily O’Reilly wrote to the Commission outlining the scope of the inquiry, noting that ‘what is of particular concern to me is the extent to which the public can follow the progress of these talks and contribute to shaping their outcome.’ She included a list of questions and suggestions which she has requested answers to from the Commission by October 31.

This public consultation will allow citizens to also feed into the Ombudsman's inquiry, and should provide her with new perspectives on the issue of transparency around these talks. In an effort to have it completed by December 31, O’Reilly has highlighted 3 areas that the public should focus on in their submissions:

1. Please give us your views on what concrete measures the Commission could take to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. Where, specifically, do you see room for improvement? (We would ask you to be as concrete as possible in your replies and also to consider the feasibility of your suggestions, in light of the timeframe of the negotiations. It would be most helpful if you could prioritise your suggestions.)

2.  Please provide examples of best practice that you have encountered in this area (for example, in particular Commission Directorates-General or other international organisations) that you believe could be applied throughout the Commission.

3.  Please explain how, in your view, greater transparency might affect the outcome of the negotiations.

Such feedback could prove invaluable for any final conclusions garnered from the Ombudsman’s inquiry, and may help to alter the way in which such negotiations take place in the years ahead. 

The lack of transparency around the TTIP talks has come under fire by many MEPs and civil society since negotiations began last year. Although the Commission has released a number of documents that relate to the talks, key negotiation documents are not open to the public, and only a handful of officials and MEPs can view the ‘consolidated texts’ in secure reading rooms in Brussels. The Council failed to agree on the release of the EU mandate for the talks in May, despite a request to do so from the Commission, and a full draft having been leaked online. There has also been no access available to US position texts in any area of the talks.

Last year a report by the Corporate Europe Observatory showed that 93% of the Commission’s preparatory meetings in the run up to the negotiations were held with industry representatives, which has given rise to speculation that the talks are heavily weighted toward business interests over that of the public good.

The Ombudsman's consultation also comes following a recent public consultation on investor rights in TTIP organised by the Commission. It received a record-breaking number of responses, most of which now look set to be discounted, as out-going Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has dismissed the use of identicial answers to questions.

You can find more detail on the EU Ombudsman’s website here

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Tom Voute

I have seen nowhere any proper justification of why any aspect of the TTIP negotiations should not be entirely in the public domain. The notion of “commercial confidentiality” is complete nonsense in this context because the negotiations are not about specific commercial transactions but only about EU’s and USA’s (and other countries) rules for such transactions and they are conducted on both sided by government and EU officials who are paid for this work paid from public taxation. If they have nothing dishonest to hide, they have no reason to object to negotiating in public.

Without 100% openness and access to all documentation these negotiations have no democratic mandate, are unlikely be in the public interest and public assurances by officials are not trustworthy. As long as the TTIP process is secret I will continue to campaign, as a citizen, actively against it. Only maximum openness will restore public confidence.

Tom Voûte, London.

Gordon Sim

I totally agree with Tom Voute.
Without written assurances from each government that Government services will not be included then this is cannot be regarded as open or democratic.
Further more all health and safety issues need to open and clarified to whom and what they actually concern.
Their also needs to be clarification as to what is really being negotiated and by whom to ensure no insider dealing are taking place.

Martin Hawkes

I endorse the preceding comments. A lack of transparency can only lead to concerns on the part of citizens that the common good is taking second place to sectoral interests. Absent serious overriding considerations - which are not obvious - the holding of negotiations affecting the lives of citizens behind closed doors is an anachronism in 2014.

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