Last week, we published a blog post on the impact of the European Court of Justice ruling on MEP Sophie in’t Veld’s case against the Council.
The Court’s decisions clearly stated that access should be ensured to documents relating to international agreements, unless it can be demonstrated that disclosure would undermine the negotiations.
Though keeping the negotiating texts secret, EU officials claim they already respect the conditions specified by the Court, as deeming them public would mean defaulting on US negotiators’ demands to keep documents out of public’s reach. According to the Commission officials, failing to respect this US request would lead to a rupture in trust between the EU and US, which would inevitably undermine the conduct of negotiations.
Now, this response raises a number of quite fundamental questions:
- Why is the EU so steadfast in acceding to the US? Why should the EU not set its own negotiating conditions? Why should the EU not require that, in line with due processes, some texts should be shared with the public at certain stages? More fundamentally, should the EU trust a trade partner that asks for negotiations of such wide scope and unprecedented implications for the EU market to be kept secret?
- There are increasing indications, relayed by policy makers, that public trust in TTIP is very low. The European Commission needs to build and enhance trust in the TTIP negotiations, or else risk facing a veto by the European Parliament, the Council or many national parliaments. The Commission would be well advised to give priority to restoring faith amongst Europeans that the public interest is being served by the trade deal. The way in which this could be achieved is by increasing transparency of the negotiations even if that means taking a firmer tone with the pact partners.
- Whether you approve or not, the reality is that some negotiating documents will be leaked. This leads to a culture of mistrust and growing suspicion questions such as ‘’is this the correct version of the document?’’, ‘’who has already seen it?’’ etc. Eventually, stakeholders end up talking about an invalid text, which is even more disruptive. Why not from the beginning officially share the original version of texts with all interested parties, as it is highly likely they will be leaked to their hands anyway? Increasing transparency in the TTIP negotiations will foster trust and reduce suspicion of the transatlantic deal.
Until now, the European Commission seems reluctant to engage in this kind of straightforward approach, out of fear of displeasing the US. We strongly believe the Commission is backing the wrong horse in striving to win the trust of its US counterpart while it loses that of European citizens. It’s clear that the Commission can only win by opening up about the TTIP negotiations, as it will regain the trust and support of European citizens, in whose interests they are mandated to act anyway.