With the 5th round of the TTIP negotiations in full swing in the US, the demand for transparency and public accountability becomes ever compelling.
More than 250 civil society organisations on both sides of the Atlantic signed this Monday, 19 May a letter addressed to Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht. They called him to open the negotiation process to the public, by releasing the negotiating mandate, documents submitted by the EU, and negotiating texts.
We all know that the real stuff of this transatlantic game lies in the negotiation offers and in the draft negotiating texts which will be exchanged between the EU and US in the coming weeks and months. They will define the level of the economic – and consumer – benefits of a transatlantic trade deal but they will also define the magnitude of risks and reduction of well-being that the agreement can lead to on both sides of the Atlantic.
And it is precisely these documents which will remain a secret.
In the EU, these crucial documents, where every word and punctuation counts, are not shared in a meaningful way with the overwhelming majority of democratically elected legislators, and even less so with their constituencies. While several outreach initiatives have been undertaken by the Commission’s trade body – stakeholder events, civil society dialogue, public consultation on investment protection, creation of an advisory group, sharing of Commission’s position papers – I cannot overcome a feeling of a paradox combination of lukewarm goodwill, creative improvisation and a difficulty to overcome tenacious bad habits of secrecy and spirit of non-accountability.
Secrecy is business as usual in many trade agreements. But TTIP is far from being business as usual.
Because of its magnitude, because of the precedent of a hard-fought Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), because of the ever increasing presence of social media which enable civil society to better organise and coordinate its response to political moves, because of the lack of trust in over-optimistic growth messages for a population that is not yet through an economic crisis, because of all this, it is key that EU negotiators listen to civil society’s perpetual message:
The negotiating texts must be made public in such a way that elected parliamentarians, stakeholders and informed citizens can provide meaningful input. Advocates of the status-quo cite the tradition of negotiating trade deals or the difficulty to engage into delicate negotiations with the other party when positions are public. But they do not hold out against examples of international negotiations (United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC, World Intellectual Property Organisation – WIPO and even World Trade Organisation – WTO) where transparency is the rule and is delivering towards expectations without controversy.
The argument according to which the US is against the publication of these documents – which I personally consider yet another paradox considering that the lives of many of us are an open book for US authorities – should not prevent the EU to at least share its own texts with its constituency. A trade negotiation is not a poker game. Cards should not be hidden, the negotiation expectations and limits should be clearly put on the table, like in a normal legislative process.
For public interest organisations, the disclosure of negotiation texts is a key condition to enhance the credibility of the negotiators. It would also allow to step away from defensive attitudes and allow a straightforward exchange on the merits of what is really being discussed, rather than just guessed.
This is the key moment for the European Commission to acknowledge that TTIP is not business as usual. This is the time in history to demonstrate its international leadership in engaging with its citizens for agreements that will significantly influence their lives. BEUC and many other public interest organisations will closely watch, and where needed, mobilise public opinion against any agreement that would be signed without due and full consideration of its concerns.This blog post is based on the article ‘EU Needs Greater TTIP Transparency’ by Monique Goyens published on March 10, 2014 on the Atlantic Community.org.