MEPs welcome 'belated' decision to declassify TTIP negotiations

Parliament's political groups have voiced their support for the council of the European Union's decision to declassify the negotiations on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the US.

By Desmond Hinton-Beales

10 Oct 2014

Carlo Calenda, deputy minister for economic development of Italy and president of the council, said, "I wish to express my deep satisfaction with [the] decision by the EU member states, which was long advocated by the Italian presidency: the declassification of the negotiating mandate is an important step towards ensuring the transparency of negotiations with the US."

Calenda stressed that the decision by ministers on Thursday "can only strengthen arguments in support of the conclusion of the TTIP agreement", calling the EU-US trade deal "a pillar of the future economic recovery of EU countries".

Outgoing EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht supported the decision, saying he was, "delighted EU governments have chosen… to make the TTIP negotiating mandate public".

"The negotiating mandate is clear: yes to the TTIP, but not at any price. European standards must and will be retained" - Daniel Caspary, EPP

The Belgian official, who stressed that he had been encouraging ministers to make the move "for a long time", said the aim was for TTIP to contribute to "economic growth and job creation across Europe while keeping our commitment to maintain high levels of protection for the environment, health, safety, consumers, data privacy, or any other public policy goal".

De Gucht pointed to the announcement as displaying Europe's "commitment to transparency as we pursue the negotiations", adding that it "allows everyone to see precisely how the EU wants this deal to work".

Reaction came from across the political spectrum in the European parliament, with EPP group trade spokesperson Daniel Caspary supporting the decision while criticising the councils' "unnecessary months of delay", which he said had stirred up "distrust among the population" regarding TTIP.

"It is now time for national governments to explain the contents of the mandate which they unanimously approved" - David Martin, S&D

The German MEP said, "The publication of the negotiating mandate is another step towards regaining trust. It must be possible for everyone to learn about the current status of the TTIP. And so we must go on, so that the rumour mill about poultry being processed using hyper-chlorinated water finally stops running."

"The negotiating mandate is clear: yes to the TTIP, but not at any price. European standards must and will be retained."

Caspary's S&D counterpart David Martin said that the council "has finally lifted the lid on its priorities for TTIP and can now be held to account", stressing that the Socialists have made it clear that they want "the investor-state dispute system (ISDS) removed from the treaty and EU public services and standards to be protected".

"This is a welcome move that shows clearly this is not a cloak and dagger deal aimed at damaging our public services, but one that will deliver for all European and British people" - Emma McClarkin, ECR

The ISDS, which is a public international law instrument allowing a foreign investor the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government, has been a point of serious contention within EU trade deals, including the EU-Canada comprehensive economic trade agreement.

"Existing ISDS cases which have come to light have shown how much power corporations have wielded in the name of profit. It is time the EU followed the Australian example and scrapped ISDS," said Martin.

"It is now time for national governments to explain the contents of the mandate which they unanimously approved."

International trade committee chair Bernd Lange also voiced his support, saying, "We need a broad, fact-based public debate on TTIP in Europe to explore the real opportunities and concerns surrounding the agreement. We have said for a long time that the publication of the negotiating mandate is fundamental for such a debate to take place. It is better late than never."

"We need more commitment from European governments and the European commission alike to make sure that stakeholders, from small and medium size enterprises, advocacy groups and civil society feel involved in the [TTIP negotiation] process" - Marietje Schaake, Alde

Further comment came from parliament's ECR group trade spokesperson Emma McClarkin, who said, "This is a welcome move that shows clearly this is not a cloak and dagger deal aimed at damaging our public services, but one that will deliver for all European and British people."

“TTIP," she said, "has always been about breaking down barriers to free trade that will boost our economies by billions of pounds, euros and dollars."

“Trade deals by definition cannot be negotiated through the press, but we need to ensure we carry people along with us by being as transparent as possible. We must confront those who are anti-TTIP with facts so opening up the negotiating mandate will help allay many people’s concerns.”

Alde deputy Marietje Schaake, who had already received assurances during a parliamentary hearing from EU trade commissioner-designate Cecilia Malmström that efforts would be made to improve transparency and access to negotiating documents, said the move could only be considered "a first step".

"If the EU is truly committed to transparency on TTIP, the commission must now grant access to the negotiating documents" - Yannick Jadot, Greens/EFA

"We need more commitment from European governments and the European commission alike to make sure that stakeholders, from small and medium size enterprises, advocacy groups and civil society feel involved in the process.

"We must make sure that people feel involved and that they can provide input to the negotiations. That will require more documents to be made publically accessible and fewer meetings to take place behind closed doors."

Greens/EFA group trade spokesperson Yannick Jadot echoed Schaake's comments, saying, "We welcome this belated initiative on the part of EU governments, but it is important to underline that it is only one part of the picture."

"If the EU is truly committed to transparency on TTIP, the commission must now grant access to the negotiating documents. The devil is in the detail and it is only by scrutinising the detail in these negotiating documents that those not directly involved in the negotiations can know where these devils lie."

"We need to be sure those negotiating on the EU's behalf do not budge an inch on EU standards and full transparency is key in this regard," he concluded.

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