Friends of the Earth Europe today cautiously welcomed moves announced by the European Commission to increase the transparency of the ongoing EU-US trade negotiations. While the new rules are a positive step, they fall short of providing full transparency and openness to allow a proper public debate on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
"While the steps announced by the Commission are in the right direction, they do not go far enough to satisfy legitimate concerns about these behind-closed-doors negotiations. The EU-US deal is set to be the biggest free-trade agreement in history and so far what has filtered out from the secretive process suggests that it will mainly serve powerful corporate interests at the expense of essential safeguards for democracy and the environment. For citizens to know what might be being traded away, and for a proper public debate to happen, all negotiation texts and other documents must be published," said Paul de Clerck, economic justice programme coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe.
The new measures include the publication of the EU negotiating texts which the Commission already shares with member state governments and the European Parliament, increased access for Members of the European Parliament to negotiation documents, and a less restrictive handling of other related documents. The Commission also announced the pro-active publication of meetings of Commissioners and their senior staff with outside stakeholders.
While greater access to the negotiating documents for MEPs is an important step, it fails to make the most essential documents, the draft consolidated text of the Treaty negotiations, publicly available before they are agreed upon.
In May, more than 250 civil society organisations issued a call for greater openness and made specific recommendations for how this could be achieved. These have only partially been followed in today's announcements.
The announced publication of details of lobby meetings with Commissioners and high officials is a positive step. However, it needs to go along with a strong commitment of the Commission that it will end privileged access for business lobbyists. The Commission should also publish meetings of lower Commission staff with lobbyists.
"Opposition to the trade talks between the EU and US is growing. People have the right to know whether hard-won standards that protect the environment, our safety and our health are being put up for negotiation – only full transparency is good enough," Natacha Cingotti, corporate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe continued.
Friends of the Earth Europe has long advocated a mandatory lobby register so citizens can see who is spending what, on which issues, to influence EU policy-making. The European Commission's proposal to introduce a mandatory register but not backed by a legislative proposal risks making this an unfinished, ineffective and blunt tool. A so-called "Inter-institutional Agreement", as suggested by Vice-President Timmermans, would not work as it will not oblige lobbyists to register. Only a legislative proposal can respond to citizens' legitimate falling trust and concerns about the lack of transparency of the EU institutions.