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.