Learning From ACTA: Will TAFTA/TTIP Be More Transparent Than TPP?
from the hope-springs-eternal dept
Recently we wrote about the growing calls for transparency during the TPP negotiations. It’s still early days for TAFTA/TTIP, but already there are some signs that senior politicians are becoming aware that transparency is no longer some minor aspect of these trade talks, but a hugely important issue in itself. We know this thanks to an earlier fight by the European Digital Rights (EDRi) group to obtain from the European Parliament various documents relating to ACTA — the result of an infamously opaque process. Its complaint was directed to the little-known European Ombudsman:
an independent and impartial body that holds the EU administration to account. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in EU institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies. Only the Court of Justice of the European Union, acting in its judicial capacity, falls outside the Ombudsman’s mandate. The Ombudsman may find maladministration if an institution fails to respect fundamental rights, legal rules or principles, or the principles of good administration.
However, in this case the European Parliament explained that it was bound by a confidentiality agreement that had been negotiated by the European Commission, and was therefore unable to release the requested ACTA documents. Here’s what the EU Ombudsman had to say on this:
The Ombudsman accepted this explanation, but advised Parliament to ensure that the Commission and the Council do not sign confidentiality agreements in the future that could undermine Parliament’s ability to deliberate openly on such issues.
That advice in itself is noteworthy, since it specifically discourages the use of confidentiality agreements that might hamper transparency. In reply, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, explained:
in the context of the TTIP negotiations, no confidentiality agreement has been signed with the US. The negotiators instead committed to implementing the EU’s access to documents rules. Schulz wrote that the Commission took the unprecedented step of publishing important documents at the start of the TTIP process and invited stakeholders to submit their views. He promised to keep reminding the Commission that a pro-active approach is needed to keep the public informed about the state of play in all such negotiations.
What exactly “keeping the public informed” about the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations means in practice is open to interpretation. But again, there’s no denying that at least some progress is evident here. For a start, unlike with ACTA, there is no formal confidentiality agreement that politicians can point to as an excuse for not releasing documents. And more generally there is a recognition that transparency is a vitally important aspect of the negotiations that can no longer be ignored, even if it will still be resisted.