EU's Chief Negotiator Has Learned Nothing From ACTA, Will Negotiate TAFTA In Secret

from the not-a-good-idea dept

The EU trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, was a driving force behind ACTA, and apparently he’s learned nothing about why ACTA failed so spectacularly in Europe. MEP Christian Engstrom pointed out to De Gucht that a big part of the reason why ACTA failed was the lack of transparency, and asked him to be more transparent with TAFTA (the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, but which many are calling TTIP — for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). De Gucht’s response was to insist that he cannot negotiate transparently, and then to outright mock Parliament for suggesting that it has a role in the negotiations.

… on the subject of openness, I have no problem saying what we are doing and what we want to achieve and, when not speaking in public, how I want to achieve this. But you are all politicians. So you should know – and I think you do know – that you cannot negotiate openly. You do not do that in your parties either; you do not do that in your constituencies. You need to focus – and yes, of course we have to report on what we are doing, explaining why we are doing things and why we are making some concessions; we will have to make concessions in the course of these negotiations. But you need a certain degree of confidentiality in negotiations. You also need it because your counterpart is asking for it; if not, you cannot negotiate.

It is interesting that it seems that there is a copy of one of the drafts of the negotiating mandate. So what? It is a draft. The Presidency has, of course, to make sure that they come to an agreement within the Council, so they put forward possible ways to get out of any difficulties that we have to deal with. Immediately, very vocal Members of this Parliament say that this is a scandal and that we are traitors and cannot be trusted. Of course you can trust me, because in the end you can say ‘No’. You have done so in the past. You said ‘No’ to ACTA: I am still not convinced that it was the right choice, but you decided to do so and that was how it was. You have the final word.

But a parliament is not created to negotiate. It is not its job. I think I have been in a parliament for a longer time than most of you –25 years. Maybe there are some who have been in a parliament as long – Mr Brok has already left, but he has certainly been in a parliament for more than 25 years – but not very many. I have never sought to negotiate an agreement from within a parliament because it simply does not work.

What you have to do – and you do it in an eloquent way – is indicate the important points that you want to mention, that you want me to look at and which you will question me about. You will scrutinise me and in the end will vote against me if I do not do that. But a parliament cannot negotiate, because a parliament only exists as a body when it votes. Outside of voting you take up individual positions. You cannot negotiate with 20, 30 or 50 different positions. That is not possible. You need to negotiate on the basis of a mandate, and then, of course, you have to demonstrate that you have been following your mandate.

Of course, MEPs weren’t asking to let Parliament negotiate the deal, just for some transparency in what was being negotiated in the public’s name. De Gucht’s answer is misleading. Plenty of international agreements are negotiated with significantly greater transparency than what happened in ACTA, what’s happening now with TPP and what’s likely with TAFTA/TTIP. Governments can and should reveal the basic things they are negotiating for, to allow for some level of public comment. But that’s not what happens. Things are negotiated in secret, in backrooms, with the help of industry lobbyists, and at the end we’re given a “take it or leave it” document, which then (in most cases) is rammed through with little debate. It’s the opposite of democracy.

Of course, ACTA showed that the public can rise up and take a stand against this, and Engstrom points out that if they did it for ACTA, they can do it again:

The positive thing about the whole ACTA affair was that there are now hundreds of thousands of European citizens who have, at least once, been demonstrating on the streets of various European cities against the trade agreement. There are lots of citizens now who take an interest in these agreements.

This is a very positive thing, but by insisting on the same kind of secrecy – only handing out secret documents to the members of the INTA Committee – the Commission is setting itself up for the same kind of failure. I would urge you to re-think this and become transparent.

It appears that De Gucht has decided not to re-think this, and to take the position that the ACTA response was an aberration. I’m sure that will play well with all the people who fought against ACTA.

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Comments on “EU's Chief Negotiator Has Learned Nothing From ACTA, Will Negotiate TAFTA In Secret”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Karel Lodewijk Georgette Emmerence De Gucht is the definition of a guy who has outlived his welcome. 25 years in the parliament means he has seen a commission fall on accout of corruption before and several commissioners have been investigated for corruption since then. Claiming that “the good old days” in the parliament is something to admire is pretty steep.

The main problems here, are:
– The mandate being extremely broad and not worth its money in paper, meaning that his “mandate is king approach” is very problematic.
– His political carreer is littered with rootlessness ideologically and fights. The guy lacks understanding of the basics in modern politics. I would coin his understanding based on his comments as “they are out to get me”.
– The guy is very openly playing a game of suit the ego of EPP. He has several times berated the greens and anything to the left of there for being ignorant or worse. Since EPP is the largest group in EP, that is a generally good strategy, except that he is dooming all the national majorities and alternative majorities. In the end that is dooming a lot of what he is trying to accomplish…
De Gucht is at his terms end and will be kicked out in 2014 if there is any justice in the world. Much of TAFTA will be a job for his replacement and he will thus be fucking up the next guys carreer by repeating ACTA. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result. De Gucht is walking exactly in the same line as with ACTA here…

All in all, we will see what happens, but I would not hold my breath if I were any party to this negotiation. It will be a very bumpy negotiation with several changes of negotiators politically (depending on the results of the elections and selections).

That One Guy (profile) says:


I’d say he learned the lesson perfectly. He learned that when the public finds out what sort of crap is really being pushed ‘in the public’s name’, rather than just getting to read the PR pieces put out to report on the ‘progress’ of the negotiations, they tend to object in rather noticeable ways.

Since the only alternative way of doing things, a way that would take away the possibility of the public making rather visible demonstrations of their anger/disgust at what’s being negotiated would be to actually negotiate in the public’s favor, which obviously isn’t going to happen any time soon with people like that leading negotiations, total secrecy is indeed the best way to handle it.

Anonymous Coward says:

You also need it because your counterpart is asking for it; if not, you cannot negotiate.

The first rule of negotiations is you cannot negotiate the terms of negotiations?

The funny thing is, if he replaced “counterpart” with “superior”, his sentence would make sense. But the thing he said there is broken.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

And then he will wonder why people do not trust the EU and it’s various commissions and committees.

Politicians need to be working to win back public confidence which, let’s be honest has been on the decline for decades. This guy, however, seems to be doing his utmost to destroy public confidence to such an extent that it can never be won back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I honestly do not think there is much more for him to do. The commission has been known as the definition of soft corruption by the way it is chosen (it is literally frinds of the governments in the countries!). Even further, the commission has been kicked out once for grand corruption (2000, maybe even systematic corruption (the whistleblower have been fired and the investigations has been stranded. There are more than a single occurance of this in the last decade!)and several individual members have been kicked later on for the same kickback scam (The latest was kicked last year for recieving upwards of 350 millions from big tobacco for removing certain restrictions.).

Add to that a growing visible tention between the commission and the parliament on several topics. There is no way EU can live on with the current construct of the commission. An elected president ain’t gonna cut it.

out_of_the_blue says:

You appear to believe they care about public good.

“apparently he’s learned nothing about why ACTA failed so spectacularly in Europe.” — DOES. NOT. CARE. Only goal is to put it over for corporate interests.

Engstrom believes “ACTA failed was the lack of transparency”. — This too is parliamentary weenie-ism that just sets aside the bad effects to focus on process.

And at least here, Mike too doesn’t mention anything but “lack of transparency” as a problem. — And so I don’t, either.

But that shift of focus is the primary goal of those keeping secrets. You can’t discuss what’s in it because you don’t know. — And THIS is why you must always have an alternative PLAN, not just some lofty general principles, to put out in the resulting vacuum, so that the public is prepared to want the right thing, and then can oppose the bureaucrats plan.

Otherwise, you’re left to mutter, “It’s gonna be bad, I tells ya!” And the public may agree with that and dislike the actual, but are left without alternative when the bad plan fills a vacuum. — And that, kids, is why Mike needs to put out what specific changes he wishes to see in copyright and patent law. You can’t fight something with nothing.

Take a loopy tour of! You always end up same place!
Mike claims to have a college degree in economics, can’t ya tell?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: You appear to believe they care about public good.

You were doing so well for a while, but you just could not make it through an entire comment without a personal attack and your ‘ignore/report me’ sig….

Also, regarding this line:

‘You can’t fight something with nothing. ‘

I know absolutely nothing about planes. I do not know how to fly them, I do not know how to build them, and I do not know how to design them. But if I saw a particular plane design crash almost immediately after takeoff five times out of five, with a different pilot each time, I would still feel fairly safe in saying that something is seriously wrong with the plane’s design, even if I had no idea as to how exactly to fix it.

The first step to fixing a problem is making people aware that it exists. If you know how to fix it, all the better, but there is still value in pointing out when something is not working.

Pragmatic says:

Re: You appear to believe they care about public good.


the alternative is a transparent negotiation process in which the public interest is considered, AS THERE USED TO BE, and WHICH MIKE HAS POINTED OUT.

The specific changes have ALREADY been mentioned MANY TIMES:

1. Copyright

Shorter terms, clear definition of “fair use,” business models that don’t rely on rent-seeking and notions of property attached to copyright, and a return to the tried-and-tested pre-TRIPS regime.

2. Patents

Must be specific, relevant to a particular invention, and must be owned by a practising entity, not a troll like Intellectual Ventures. No evergreening on drugs. No patents on software, maths, genes, or biological material, e.g. food.

I’ve been seeing these points raised over and over again here in Techdirt since I started reading it.

Are you blind?

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: Re: You appear to believe they care about public good.

Are you blind?

No, “out_of_the_ass” is not blind, just willfully ignorant; he refuses to believe that people can innovate/learn/profit without “Imaginary Property” protections, so he parrots his *AA heroes/masters/(employers?) and denigrates anything anyone else has to say on the site.

Footnote: He also likes to conflate Mike and his positions with those of any/all of the other contributors on the site; apparently he thinks they/we are all sockpuppets.

Nemo says:

Re: Re: You appear to believe they care about public good.

Are you serious? We are speaking about the biggest FTA in history. Now you have your little things that you want to change. And other stakeholders have a million other little things. If you want something this big to happen, you can’t start a plenary debate on every nittygritty detail. Transparency is hype. Sure. But the Acta example shows exactly that transparency only is neglected by just the guys who always demand it. Misinformation on all fronts. Blogs like Quadrature du net knowingly spread more misinformation about acta than any of the pro-guys ever did. No one seems to have an interest in accuracy and facts any more. It is all hype, shitstorm, rararahhhh. I am so sick of it. Fact is: We need trade to kickstart our economy again, otherwise we will loose more than the little we risk with some concessions we might have to make in TTIP. We miss the bigger picture while fretting over pebbles

Anonymous Coward says:

i sincerely hope that there are plenty of ‘eyes on him’ again. the man is an absolute arse hole! he has been in the USA recently, holding talks with the entertainment industries. i bet any money you like all that was discussed were ways to reword the old ACTA documents so that the same thing wanted there will be sneaked in again, under cover of something like the ‘fish quotas’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But what about their "advisors" ?

I completely agree. However, the FTAs we see today are generally perfectly taylored to give advantages to the big companies in all countries. You would have to completely redefine FTAs to do that and that would likely take a change to TRIPS which is not gonna happen on this side of 2020 given how the Doha rounds haven’t even ended yet…
I was thinking more along the line of companies, consumerorganisations, civil right movements and industrial interest organisations appointed an expert for each area and come to a general agreement on what should and shouldn’t be privy to the negotiations. Afterwards, nobody should have access to negotiators in any way before the final text is out. After the text is out there has to be a phase where everybody can raise concerns which should lead to an independent legal investigation based on those concerns. Afterwards, the bill is clear to get voted on. In europe we have the problem of EP taking the role of “the public” in all cases and they are nowhere near representative since civil rights is a very small concern for voters in Germany and Italy, while french rightwingers are the definition of controlled market protectionists. I would not trust them with a hammering a nail in a turd in fear of them ruining both nail and turd.

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