EU Needs Greater TTIP Transparency
As TTIP negotiations progress from warm-ups to substantial bargaining, the EU's negotiating texts must be made public in such a way that elected parliamentarians, stakeholders, and informed citizens can provide meaningful input. This would follow the precedent of openness set by previous international negotiations of similar magnitude and is the only way for negotiators to ensure that the resulting agreement credibly serves the interest of the European constituents whose lives it will affect.
The TTIP warm-up sessions that lasted for more than six months have now been officially concluded with ‘stocktaking discussions' between EU Commissioner De Gucht and United States Trade Representative Michael Froman on February 17-18. The next round of negotiations starting today in Brussels is expected to go into the details of the TTIP negotiations for the first time.
A ‘stocktaking' of these discussions by civil society hinges on the following two questions: Are negotiators really aware of civil society's concerns and expectations? And are they aware that they bear the responsibility of TTIP's failure if the concerns of civil society and the general public are not taken into account?
Warm-ups allow for smoother, risk-free exercise. They are also used to show one's muscles without real engagement. In TTIP negotiations, they provide a unique opportunity, certainly in (pre)electoral times, to show to the public that policy makers listen to them, but also to do so without actual commitment.
The real stuff of this transatlantic game lies in the negotiation offers and in the draft negotiation texts that will be exchanged between the EU and US in the coming weeks and months. They will define the level of the economic and consumer benefits of a transatlantic trade deal, but they will also define the magnitude of risk and reduction of well-being that the agreement can lead to on both sides of the Atlantic. And it is precisely these documents which will remain a secret.
In the EU, these crucial texts, where every word and punctuation mark counts, are not being shared in a meaningful way with the overwhelming majority of democratically elected legislators, and even less so within their constituencies. While several outreach initiatives have been undertaken by the Commission's trade body—stakeholder events, civil society dialogue, public consultation on investment protection, creation of an advisory group—I cannot overcome a feeling of paradox arising from this combination of lukewarm goodwill, creative improvisation, and difficulty in overcoming tenacious bad habits of secrecy and a spirit of non-accountability.
Secrecy is business as usual in many trade agreements. But TTIP is far from being business as usual.
Because of its magnitude, because of the precedent set by the hard-fought Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), because of the ever increasing presence of social media which enables civil society to better organize and coordinate its response to political moves, because of the lack of trust in overly optimistic growth messages among a population that is not yet through an economic crisis, because of all this, it is critical that EU negotiators listen to civil society's message: the negotiating texts must be made public in such a way that elected parliamentarians, stakeholders, and informed citizens can provide meaningful input. Advocates of the status-quo cite the tradition of negotiating trade deals and the difficulty of engaging in delicate negotiations with the other party when positions are public. But they do not hold up against examples of international negotiations where transparency is the rule and not controversial (e.g. the United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change - UNFCCC, World Intellectual Property Organization - WIPO, and even World Trade Organization - WTO). The argument that the US is against the publication of these documents—which I personally consider to be another paradox considering that the lives of many of us are an open book for US authorities—should not prevent he EU from sharing at least its own texts with its constituents.
For public interest organizations, the disclosure of negotiation texts is a key condition for enhanced negotiator credibility. It would also allow a step away from defensive attitudes in favor of straightforward exchange based on the merits of what is really being discussed, rather than mere guesswork.
This is the critical juncture for the European Commission to acknowledge that TTIP is not business as usual. This is the time in history to demonstrate international leadership by engaging with European citizens on agreements that will significantly influence their lives. BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) and many other public interest organizations will watch closely, and where needed, mobilize the public against any agreement that may be signed without due and full consideration of public concerns.
Monique Goyens is Director General of BEUC, The European Consumer Organization.