Parliament round-up: MEPs give mixed response to release of TTIP documents

Written by Jon Benton on 12 January 2015 in News
News

MEPs have argued that transparency is still lacking in EU-US trade deal negotiations following the publication of negotiating texts.

The European parliament has welcomed the European commission's decision to publish the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiation documents. The decision follows widespread criticism for the commission surrounding the trade deal, especially on the lack of transparency in negotiations given their potential impact on Europe.

"The commission seeks to dispel 'myths and misconceptions' surrounding the trade deal by publishing the proposal texts being negotiated"

The move comes as the commission seeks to dispel 'myths and misconceptions' surrounding the trade deal by publishing the proposal texts under negotiation along with position papers, explanatory texts and readers guides to further illustrate the nature of the trade talks.

However, parliament has argued that what the commission has released so far does not tell the whole story and that more can and must be done. Furthermore, the European ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has published a series of recommendations on how to further increase transparency of the ongoing TTIP negotiations.

O'Reilly has argued that "further steps are needed to increase the legitimacy of the negotiations in the eyes of the public". She highlights the need for a "comprehensive list of public and non-public TTIP documents and for greater proactivity concerning the publication of documents, including agendas and minutes of meetings with lobbyists", to be compiled by the commission.

The ombudsman also suggests that the commission should "extend the transparency obligations as regards meetings with stakeholders to the levels of commission directors, heads of units, and negotiators". O'Reilly also points out that, "EU officials involved in the TTIP negotiations should only meet with interest representatives who are registered in the transparency register".

"Further steps are needed to increase the legitimacy of the negotiations in the eyes of the public" - Emily O'Reilly

The focus of parliament's criticism has been the lack of transparency regarding American proposals for the trade deal. Many are concerned that TTIP will pave the way for US companies to alter European trading standards, particularly on sensitive areas such as geographical indicators (GIs) on food labelling, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - standards that are at odds with US practice.

It is hoped that with this first step towards transparency and openness in the negotiations, that greater progress will be made in the future to improve public awareness on TTIP. Although until US authorities match the EU's commitment to transparency, it is unlikely that public fears surrounding TTIP will be fully dealt with.

Below is round-up of parliament's reaction along with comment from the European ombudsman:

 

Emily O'Reilly is European ombudsman

The commission has made real efforts to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. I am aware that the commission at times needs to talk to the US confidentially to be able to negotiate effectively. However, US resistance to publishing certain TTIP documents is not in itself sufficient to keep them from the European public. The commission has to ensure at all times that exceptions to the EU citizens' fundamental right to get access to documents are well-founded and fully justified.

 

David Martin is S&D trade spokesperson and a member of parliament's international trade (INTA) committee

We have been calling for greater transparency since TTIP negotiations were launched, so we appreciate the effort made by trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström. However, we are not fully satisfied. We also want the services schedule published, as the commission has already done for the trade in services agreement (TiSA), which would ensure the full protection of the public services.

 

Bernd Lange (S&D) is chair of parliament's INTA committee

The publication of the negotiation documents is a result of our demands for more transparency in the talks with the US. The road ahead is still long, and we will continue to encourage the commission to demonstrate maximum transparency. In addition, it must be clear that the demand for more transparency does not stop at the TTIP negotiations, but also applies to all negotiations in which the EU is engaged.

 

Emma McClarkin is ECR group trade spokesperson and a member of parliament's INTA committee

The European commission has secured two victories here: it has increased transparency surrounding these trade negotiations, and it has demonstrated just how many areas would benefit from a well-balanced agreement with the US.

Those of us who want to see an ambitious and balanced TTIP agreement must allay any fears that opponents of open trade seek to stir up. The commission has taken a positive step to addressing those concerns that these talks were only being conducted behind closed doors. Of course, we must negotiate in the room and not through cameras and newspapers, but we should seek to be as open as we can about the positions we are putting on the table, and the benefits that this deal will bring to workers, consumers and employers.

 

Marietje Schaake is ALDE group trade spokesperson, a member of parliament's INTA committee and a vice chair of the delegation for relations with the United States

It is good to see that the commissioner is now fulfilling her commitment on more transparency for the TTIP negotiations. It is important that citizens and stakeholders have more access to the negotiations, so that we can have a fact-based discussion and make sure that the priorities for the EU are transparent, clear. Only then can we make sure that we get a final text which benefits Europe and Europeans. I hope people will go and actually read these texts, so that they can see what TTIP is and is not about.

Earlier this week, the Latvian presidency of the EU council announced that transatlantic relations and TTIP would be priorities for the next six months. It is important that the member states really commit to engaging in the broader discussion on TTIP and its potential benefits. Hopefully, keeping it a priority within the council will be a step towards doing so. The governments of EU member states initiated the negotiations by giving the European commission a negotiating mandate and they can best explain how TTIP could have an impact on their citizens."

 

Ska Keller is Greens/EFA group trade spokesperson, a member of parliament's INTA committee

The recent publication of documents by the commission is a step in the right direction. However, the publications do not make negations transparent. We do not even know if the documents are the actual basis for the negotiations. In order to really understand what is happening at the negotiation table, we need the consolidated negotiations texts and the proposals from the Americans. Without these crucial documents, the negotiations are still opaque for members of the European parliament and for the public.

During UN negotiations and during the negations on the free trade agreement of the Americas (NAFTA), the consolidated negotiation texts were published after every negotiation meeting. This shows that texts can be made public without undermining the talks. We currently see a truly European debate on the free trade agreement with the US - this is good for European democracy. The European commission must not block these upcoming debates on transparency.

 

Helmut Scholz is GUE-NGL group trade spokesperson, a member of parliament's INTA committee and the delegation for relations with the United States

It is a positive move of commissioner Malmström to respond to public demand for transparency in trade negotiations and to make more documents available. Those 'new' texts played a role in past steps of the TTIP negotiations. The talks have advanced on these issues and consolidated texts also including the US position are available - but still only in the reading room. I welcome that fact that the number of MEPs with access to the reading room has been increased, but neither journalists nor the public have access to these relevant sources, while we as MEPs are not allowed to inform about what we have seen there.

Other documents marked as 'new' on the commission's website are their so-called fact-sheets. Unfortunately, these papers do not provide any facts. They simply list concerns and reject them. So they are nothing more than campaigning materials in a flimsy layout. On the day of the commission transparency announcement, I received the proposed chapter on regulatory cooperation again as a classified document, although this is one of the crucial and most contested aspects of the negotiations. It proposes non-transparent organs and decision making procedures within TTIP. The intention of planning new regulation shall trigger off a screening, whether the proposal is harmful to trade. The proposals that still reach parliament will already be filtered.

 

About the author

Jon Benton is a journalist and editorial assistant at the Parliament Magazine

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