EU Commission Sued For Refusing To Reveal Trade Agreement Documents They Shared With Lobbyists

from the right-to-know dept

A recurrent theme here on Techdirt is the lack of transparency when international agreements and treaties are being drawn up. That's increasingly recognized not just as problematic, but simply unacceptable in an age when the Internet makes it easy to provide both access to draft documents and a way for the public to offer comments on them.

Despite this growing pressure, nothing much has happened on either side of the Atlantic as far as providing greater openness for major negotiations is concerned. Perhaps frustrated by this lack of movement, the transparency organization Corporate Europe Observatory decided to take legal action against the European Commission back in February over the secret trade talks between the EU and India.

As the detailed history of this case (pdf) explains, the European Commission was apparently quite happy to pass on copies of certain documents to industry associations, but when Corporate Europe Observatory asked for the same, they only received censored versions. The lawsuit accuses the European Commission of discriminating in favor of corporate lobby groups and of violating the EU's transparency rules. As the Corporate Europe Observatory asks:

how can documents that the Commission has already shared with the business community at large suddenly become confidential and a threat to the EU's international relations when a public interest group asks for their disclosure? This is the core question raised by the lawsuit.
And it points out:
What is at stake in the lawsuit is whether the Commission can continue its habit of granting big business privileged access to its trade policy-making process by sharing information that is withheld from the public. This practice not only hampers well-informed and meaningful public participation in EU trade policy-making, it also leads to a trade policy that, while catering for big business needs, is harmful to people and the environment in the EU and the world.
The European court will be handing down its verdict on 7 June. If the judges side with transparency, it could have a major impact on how the imminent TAFTA/TTIP negotiations between the EU and US are conducted. If they don't, then the battle for the public's right to know what is being agreed in its name will doubtlessly continue.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 3:59am

    "If the judges side with transparency, it could have a major impact on how the imminent TAFTA/TTIP negotiations between the EU and US are conducted."

    We can hope...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 4:09am

    and i wouldn't be surprised if, as usual, the court finds against Corporate Europe Observatory. the last thing anyone in a high position wants, regardless of whether it is a person or a organisation/body, is for the public to know what is going on. this is the flavour of 'negotiations' now. the biggest group is the public. the easiest way to stop bad deals is for the public to find out what is happening and how they will be affected in relation to the businesses that are part of the negotiations. even if the court sides with Corporate Europe Observatory, it will be a useless decision if representative groups looking after the public's interests are still omitted from talks or not allowed to have meaningful input that is actually taken notice of. it will be even worse in the talks between the EU and the USA. the EU will be expected to give everything that the USA demands (not asks for! demands!) whilst the USA will expect to give absolutely nothing to the EU, especially when it comes to copyright, patent and trademark violations. all will be to protect, reimburse and profitise USA companies, particularly the entertainment industries and big Pharma companies so generics are prohibited!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 4:10am

    sadly i predict that it will not side with transparency.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    ricebowl (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 4:18am

    Regardless of their decision...

    I think we can expect appeals, wailing, protestation and an upsurge in complaints and press-attention as to the loss of freedom, security, etc.

    The only difference is that their siding against transparency will legitimise the protestations and complaints.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 4:32am

    " If they don't, then the battle for the public's right to know what is being agreed in its name will doubtlessly continue. "

    yes, it's a real good fight so far, how's it working out for you !!!

    Like it's a massive hot button issue, Governments could fall, and the shit hit the fan.. /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 4:36am

    Re:

    Not everyone wants to be as misinformed and unimaginative as you, darryl.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 4:47am

    And this is referred to as a representative form of government?

    They certainly do not represent the will or needs of the majority.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Paul Renault (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 5:03am

    Re:

    ...says the Anonymous Coward...

    /Sorry, I couldn't resist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 5:21am

    Re:

    It's a hot button for me. Any of my MEPs that campaign on a platform of openness will get my vote over practically anyone else.

    It's people like you who allow governments to get away with this crap.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 5:39am

    CEO seems to have a very good case for the specific reason given being ridiculous. Using "public safety" as a reason for holding back some of these informations seems so far out that even the commission has to give them up!

    The commissions plan for trying to get on equal footing with USA in terms of letting industry representatives participate in TAFTA would completely vanish if there is a full disclosure ruling.

    Even more so, even a full disclosure is likely to leave enough room for setting up future systems to get around the pesky "transparency". The transparency law used here is only 13 years old and extremely non-specific, so the commission will of course be able to find far more holes for keeping priviledged information systems running.

    In the world of trade agreements, where logic is a city on the moon and the feelings and guesses from the industries are solely what the negotiators act upon, we will not see a move towards more openness since public interests are deemed to be "irrelevant". That, of course, is only partially true in most cases and completely untrue in the rest!

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 6:08am

    For the individual to influence European politics, they should donate to public interest groups, and they call it a representative democracy!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 6:19am

    They should just share it I mean it's not like any of us will actually understand it after they break it down into unintelligible jargon.

     

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  13.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 6:38am

    Forgive me but the cynic in me says too much interests to side with transparency now... Still I hop I'll bite my tongue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    PRMan, May 20th, 2013 @ 6:54am

    Well...

    Maybe Europe can finally show America what "government of the people, by the people and for the people" really means.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 7:07am

    Re:

    Does any government truly represent the needs of the majority?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 7:43am

    Re: Well...

    Well, since corporations are apparently also people, this works either way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 8:02am

    So American public interest groups may be able to use the EU's transparency laws in order to finally understand what America is trying to do in their secret trade agreements.

    All I forsee is the US government playing ignorant (again) and pretending the documents the EU has to release about trade agreements don't exist and aren't public knowledge.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 8:08am

    Re:

    We can hope...
    Indeed we can, but the anticapatory curtailing of in- and ex-haling is not recommended...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    special-interesting (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 8:23am

    Good. Great. Awesome. Sue the hell out of them if they can and lets not exclude damages and suffering of which there have been much. Any secrecy at all at the policy making level is absurd in a democratic society.

    If they were negotiating some boring trade agreement then they would have nothing to fear? Its likely something else is being negotiated and the bargaining chips seem to be the basic freedoms every individual cherishes.

    It has always been my opinion that any trade agreement that citizens/firms will be held accountable for MUST be publicly debated with FULL disclosure or it would be (completely, 100%) unconstitutional. Whatever nonsense rational defending such behavior should be not only ignored but hopefully prosecuted/impeached as the dangerous tyrannical tendencies they are.

    Denying even one citizen a current copy (within a few days or better yet a web page updated daily) of such a treaties converts all the efforts done by such organizations/government into 'bad faith' negotiations.

    All of the trade-associations/congress/EU might profess devoutly that they were only following some boring standard policy and had the legal standing to do so. When pressed at the impossibility of such behavior by a public body they might further whine about some imaginary terrorist threat. (As if that should make any difference in an open democratic process?!)

    Public Safety is as nonsensical as any idiotic reason to deny public input. It can be easily reasoned that lack of openness would be a threat to public safety. Would not any public official acting in such a non open way be terrorizing the democratic process?

    Worse is the normal habit of government and trade-associations to ignore public input. Its common that treaty-negotiators or government-agencies/departments/officials will ignore tens of thousands of valid citizens letters against some idiotic treaty in favor of a few biased corporate opinions.

    Have no confidence in the EU or US court system to make any unbiased ruling in regards to the unconstitutionality of any secretly generated legislation. Especially in the US... When was the last time anyone heard of ANY act or bill that was ruled unconstitutional?

    Reactionary,

    AC pointed out that no good will come of any order of unmasking the secrecy or openness because the public will still be omitted from the negotiation table. The problems that manifested such behavior are still present and active... Voters are still likely electing the wrong people.

    Another AC said In the world of trade agreements, where logic is a city on the moon, is so true although it might be added that democracy is another civilization in a 'galaxy far away'.

     

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  20.  
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    steell (profile), May 20th, 2013 @ 9:11am

    Re:

    Does "Recess Appointments" count? Two Federal District Courts so far have declared the act unconstitutional. Going to the Supreme Court next.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2013 @ 12:27pm

    At least they aren't prosecuting the journalists for "leaking" their "government secrets" - *cough* Obama administration *cough*.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Seegras (profile), May 21st, 2013 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    I think they will side with transparency. And then the commission will either ignore them, wail, hand over outdated documents to the public, or some other shenanigans.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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