War of words heats up ahead of controversial trade secrets directive vote

Greens/EFA group and campaigners in last ditch attempt to ensure new rules are rejected, while EPP group insists it supports the legislation. 

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Apr 2016

Opposing groups are locked in a bitter war of words ahead of a vote in Parliament on controversial new EU rules on trade secrets.

The trade secrets directive will be debated by MEPs in Strasbourg tomorrow (Wednesday) and voted upon the following day (Thursday).

Roughly 90 per cent of industrial innovations rely on trade secret, protection yet there is currently no EU-wide protection against their theft.


The directive aims to replace the existing legal patchwork with a single, clear and coherent regime for the EU.

One camp urges MEPs to back the "carefully balanced text" which, they insist, seeks "to promote fair competition in the single market and help prevent industrial espionage."

Critics of the new legislation, though, say it creates excessive rights to secrecy for businesses.

The rules, they argue, pose a direct threat to the work of journalists and their sources, whistleblowers, employees' freedom of expression, and our rights to access public interest information.

The Greens are among those who are mounting a last minute campaign for the rules to be rejected this week.

Others include Martin Pigeon, from Corporate Europe Observatory, a Brussels-based group, who said: "This is not going to be an easy battle: multinational corporations have been lobbying for this directive for years and heavily influenced the text while the general public hardly knows anything about it."

He added, "The text can today no longer be changed. We call on the European Parliament to reject it."

The EPP group, however, supports the legislation and plan to back a report, drafted by Constance Le Grip, a French centre-right MEP.

The group says the rules "aim to give Europe a common legal base in the fight against theft, looting and the diversion of key elements of the competitiveness of enterprises."

It says the legislation also "preserves fundamental rights and freedoms, such as media freedom."

The EPP comments are endorsed by the Brussels-based trade secrets and innovation coalition (TSIC), which says the legislation will "discourage industrial espionage and unfair competition, notably coming from outside of the EU."

The directive, says TSIC, "recognises the strategic importance of know-how for growth, competitiveness and innovation in Europe, while protecting labour mobility, freedom of expression and information. It also provides pioneering safeguards for whistleblowers."

A TSIC spokesman said, "Even if trade secrets are acquired unlawfully, they may be lawfully disclosed to reveal a misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity in the general public interest or for exercising the right to freedom of expression and information."

Charles Laroche, senior advisor on public affairs for the international fragrance association, agrees, saying, "The theft of know-how is increasing at alarming rates in Europe to the detriment of innovative companies, usually the smaller ones, who have limited human and financial means to seek remedies."

Laroche argues that "substantial" differences in legislation across Europe have made cross-border redress "even more difficult."

While some member states have adequate legislation in place, the protection against misappropriation and misuse of confidential know-how is very weak or non-existent in others, says Laroche.


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