For many years, various public interest groups in Europe have criticized EU trade policy for a lack of transparency, a severe democratic deficit and a blatant corporate bias. The European Parliament rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012, with MEPs arguing that “law negotiated and pushed through in secret is usually bad law.”
In response to calls by these same MEPs for more openness in the negotiations for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), European Parliament President Martin Schulz this week announced that future trade negotiations, and in particular the on-going negotiations with the US on the TTIP will be more transparent and open for stakeholder involvement.
The announcement was welcomed by the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, who had also recommended greater transparency in light of the damaging role secrecy had played in past failures of trade talks such as ACTA.
“I am glad that the EU institutions did not sign overly restrictive confidentiality agreements in the TTIP negotiations as had been the case in the context of the negotiations on the ACTA. Apart from the legitimate need for certain documents to remain confidential in such important negotiations, the public needs to know about the state of play in trade agreements that will ultimately affect their daily lives,” O’Reilly stated.
Whether the announcement by President Schulz results in substantive change — all tabled documents and negotiation texts being made available to the public, for example, rather than just the selective release of a few of the European Commission’s trade negotiating positions — remains to be seen.