European Parliament Orders MEP To Take Down A Video About His Attempt To Visit The 'Reading Room' For Trade Documents

from the really-now? dept

We've written many times about the insane levels of secrecy around various trade agreements, including the TTIP agreement that is being worked on between the EU and the US. Basically, everything gets negotiated behind closed doors -- though certain lobbyists get full access -- and then it will be presented as a final document when it's too late for the public to actually weigh in. It's the ultimate in corrupt processes. In the past, the USTR has admitted that it demands such secrecy because if it had to reveal its positions publicly, the public wouldn't support the agreement. In the US, this has led to ridiculous situations such as when Senator Ron Wyden, who at the time was the chair of the Senate's subcommittee on international trade, was not allowed to bring a staffer of his, who is an expert in international trade, with him to read the latest text of a trade negotiation. Because that went against the rules.

And it's been standard practice in the US that if a politician does want to see the documents, they can't bring anything with them (not just no staff, but no electronics, no way to write anything down). They can just "read and retain." The EU has been following the US's lead on this, with special "reading rooms" for elected officials where someone watches over their every move. Again, they're not allowed any electronics. They are allowed a pen and are given paper to write on, which is a modest improvement on the USTR's system, but still ridiculous.

A Member of the European Parliament, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, decided that he was going to go have a look for himself, and had someone film his attempt:
It's not exactly great filmmaking, but it does show how he has to give up his electronics and sign a document before entering the room (quickly, so as not to allow anyone to see what's in there). And then he comes back out after being handed a document saying that it's also against the law for him to copy down anything from the draft text verbatim. He expresses his concern about how ridiculous this is and is told to take it up with someone else, who then tells him that he should be happy that MEPs can even view the document at all within the EU Parliament, and that this is a "great achievement."

This is, of course, already pretty ridiculous. And then it got more ridiculous because the European Parliament demanded that Flanagan take down the video, something he is refusing to do:
According to a news report, the EU Parliament claims it wants the video taken down to protect the name of a staffer, but Flanagan points out that staffer names are already public.
“The reason given (for removing the video) is that no permission for filming was received from the parliament,” Flanagan told TheJournal.ie.

An assistant of MEP Bernd Lange appears in the video, and Lange wants her name removed, the MEP claimed.

“It’s important to note that all assistants are already openly identified on the EP website,” Flanagan added.
It seems pretty clear that the EU Parliament isn't pleased with the contents of the video. Of course, in demanding it be taken down, it's only served to drive that much more attention to the video. I doubt I would have heard about it otherwise. Funny how that works.

Either way, it continues to raise questions about what kind of democratic process there is when these kinds of regulations are written in secret, with the help of lobbyists, and even the legislators themselves are basically barred from seeing or understanding what's in them. And then when those legislators highlight how ridiculous this is, the powers that be try to silence them.

Filed Under: censorship, eu, eu commision, eu parliament, luke ming flanagan, secrecy, transparency, ttip


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  • icon
    MadAsASnake (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 4:02am

    I would have thought ANY politician voting on this should reject it on the very grounds that they cannot know what is in it. Unfortunately, the fact that things like this pass shows that the voting process is as suspect as everything else.

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

    • icon
      ThatFatMan (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 6:18am

      Re:

      This makes me think of the Affordable Care Act, where it was once said "we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it". If you were right, that pile of shit wouldn't have passed either, but here we are a few years later living with the consequences of politicians voting for something when they didn't know everything that was in it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 4:23am

    The permanent bureaucrats do not like it when the degree of control they have over the elected representatives is made visible.

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

  • icon
    Rattran (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 4:26am

    Taking direction on how a democracy should function from the USA at this point seems... Unwise.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 4:33am

    Mike Masnick just hates it when copyright law is enforced.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 4:40am

    Secrets

    Secret courts, secret trade agreements, secret national security letters, secret interpretation of law, secret mass surveillance.

    Hope I'm not breaking some secret law by talking about all these secrets.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 9:15am

      Re: Secrets

      Hope I'm not breaking some secret law by talking about all these secrets.[/blockquote]

      I can neither confirm nor deny the fact that you may be in breach of an unconformable number of statutes of any law(s) that I can neither confirm nor deny exist.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re: Secrets

        I can guarantee that he is in breach of a number of laws. Globally, the situation has got to the point that if you're following a law in one country, you're breaking one in another. It's now impossible to follow all laws globally.

        So then it comes down to: "Are you a person of interest?"

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

    • identicon
      Alice In Wonderland, 9 May 2016 @ 10:56am

      Re: Secrets

      The seventh word in the first sentence of the article says it all: "Insane."

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 12:52pm

      Re: Secrets

      Secret courts, secret trade agreements, secret national security letters, secret interpretation of law, secret mass surveillance.

      Are we the baddies?

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

  • icon
    Nayab Afra (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 4:46am

    Follow Rules

    I think they are reject it another thing every one know about the all process of voting

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

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 5:40am

    Is the EU taking cues from North Korea, now?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 5:51am

    Holy Streisand effect Batman.

    I want my representatives to reflexively vote crap like this down or table it until it has been released publicly and fully vetted by real experts. If the rules are too onerous to share it it must not

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 5:58am

      Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

      Didn't you read the article? It is vetted by real experts.
      "certain lobbyists get full access"
      Don't people always say private companies are better at everything? Well, that's what you get.

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

      • icon
        trollificus (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 8:32am

        Re: Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

        No, people DON'T say "private companies are better at everything".

        People say "free markets are the best way to allocate resources and reward enterprise", but that's nothing at all like what we are seeing in this instance or in the United States in general.

        Thought I'd point that out in case you actually gave a shit about, you know, the truth and all. Which I strongly suspect you don't.

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

        • identicon
          Call me Al, 9 May 2016 @ 9:02am

          Re: Re: Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

          Very true. I can't see how you can have both free markets and loads of international governmental regulation on what is going on in those markets.

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

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 10 May 2016 @ 6:00am

          Re: Re: Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

          Let's assume that free markets are indeed the best way to allocate resources and reward enterprise; it's hardly surprising, then, that incumbents won't allow them to exist.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 6:18am

      Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

      Vote? Ratification is so last century. As Techdirt has reported before, thanks to the magic of provisional application....

      > The growing use of provisional application clauses in treaties is a consequence of the need felt to give effect to treaty obligations prior to a state’s formal ratification of / accession to a treaty.

      ...your country can be bound by these treaties before your representatives get a chance to vote on them.

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

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 1:01pm

        Re: Re: Holy Streisand effect Batman.

        We need to stop pretending we are in a republic in which we get representation, and start regarding ours as a feudal society.

        That is to say, we stop misappropriating blame on ourselves for policy the implementation of which we had no hand in, and we need to start addressing those who do have that control as if the power and responsibility is entirely theirs.

        Oh, and we should stop teaching our children that they live in such fantasies as a representative democracy or adornment of a guarantee of liberties and rights.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 5:54am

    Big step forward

    "The EU has been following the US's lead on this, with special "reading rooms" for elected officials where someone watches over their every move."

    It is an improvement at least if it was the same for the EU parliament as it was in Germany.
    In Berlin the documents were only available in the US embassy, in a special room. Because the US didn't trust the German gov to keep them secret and wanted full control over who reads them and probably to make a list of those people.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 6:14am

    Remember this is about trade agreements that will be public anyway. If it is going to be public anyway, the only justification for the secrecy is because it's so damn bad that it wouldn't get to be finished if it was public in the first place.

    There's no need to know what's written there, we already know it's bullshit. The question now is who to shame and where to agglomerate to protest and make this become toxic enough.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      Sorry, shaming only works if the person being shamed is actually affected by the shaming.

      Otherwise, more drastic action needs to be taken to ensure that the person actually acts in a responsible manner. This usually requires loss of privilege, loss of freedom (though that one has lost it effectiveness) or loss of something more permanent.

      One must remember that honest politicians are the ones who stay bought, the dishonest ones get shafted by those who have previously bought them.

      As a friend of mine said many, many years ago, it was the height of insult (as in fighting words) if one called another a politician in ancient times. In modern times, the title is treated as an accolade.

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 10 May 2016 @ 6:06am

      Re:

      The neoliberals in all parties are driving this because it's got the word "trade" in it, and they're willing to sell us down the river over ISDS on the grounds of "Them's the rules."

      Neoliberalism itself is predicated on the belief that there's such a thing as the free market right here, right now; all their policies are based on that whether there are trust structures in place or not.

      So basically liars and fantasists hiding behind a BS ideology are driving this. Naming and shaming won't work, you need to point out the flaws in their statements when they post propaganda on social media. That won't make them change their minds but you will influence their audience.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 7:14am

    Stupid Whatever will insist there is no secrecy involved. Or he would try to go on with his lie about how nothing would ever get done if everyone needed to get involved in every decision and how we should just trust our elected officials because we elected them and so they are elected as if that's enough democratic participation on our part.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 7:16am

    you will be a slave and like it

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 9 May 2016 @ 7:46am

    "Either way, it continues to raise questions about what kind of democratic process there is when these kinds of regulations are written in secret, with the help of lobbyists, and even the legislators themselves are basically barred from seeing or understanding what's in them. And then when those legislators highlight how ridiculous this is, the powers that be try to silence them."

    Democratic process?
    Can we please stop pretending we have any sort of "Democratic process" left? We are starting to sound like a bunch of "back in my day" old guys. Face the facts, America as anyone over 40 knew it to be is long gone and will never return. It will keep getting worse because... "Terrorism." And the lack of the populace to actually give a crap. America is over... it was fun while it lasted.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 8:20am

    Guess I'll be the guy to make the obvious joke about trade agreement access this time:

    If they somehow force Flanagan to take down the video, he could always replace it with this picture.

    (http://i.imgur.com/LB63wcl.jpg)

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

  • identicon
    turd fergeson, 9 May 2016 @ 8:54am

    oh well

    this too shall pass

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 9:41am

    TTIP must be stopped. New World Order is not a conspiracy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 10:37am

    Half kindergarten bullshit, half disinformation. These documents are work in progress, all that matters is if they make the *final* version public. Fucking posers.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 10:51am

      Re:

      At which point the following occurs:

      "Okay, here's the final documents. You have [absurdly short amount of time] to go over them and then you have to vote on them."

      "There is no possible way we can meaningfully analyze what's in the documents in that amount of time."

      "Well that's not my problem now is it? Now be good little tools and do as your bosses tell you."

      'Trade' agreements like this aren't small deals between private companies, they're agreements that are going to have significant impact on the public of the countries bound by them. To say that the representatives of the public aren't allowed to see them in full, whenever they want with whoever they want, while representatives of the private companies involved have that sort of access is beyond unacceptable, and should result in refusal to vote on the agreements until they've been gone over at leisure by the public's representatives.

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

      • icon
        Jeremy Lyman (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 12:15pm

        Re: Re:

        I think private companies should be able to draft up whatever secret trade deals they want. And they should be given no more weight by elected officials than the "trade deals" I cook up alone in my basement. But if they're expecting fast track favoritism it's no longer a private draft. Show us what you've got or just take it home and shred it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 11:11am

      Re:

      These documents are work in progress,

      Which is why they should be public, if democracy is to have any meaning. The way they are being written ensues that corporate interest will will out over any public benefit.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 5:52pm

      Re:

      Log back in, Whatever.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 10:42am

    "Sign there. No you don't need to read it, you're only here to sign it."

    You'd think that politicians would at least be mildly offended at the idea that they're being used simply to sign the things, and aren't considered important in any way before or after the moment when they vote it in, but I guess the entire pack of them is too spineless to respond how they should in cases like this:

    "If we can't see it, discuss it or study it then we won't vote on it. If that ruins years of 'discussion' between you and private lobbyists then that's not our problem."

    If those involved feel safe treating the politicians this way however I imagine it's because the politicians have demonstrated that they don't give a damn about anything other than personal power, and refusing to vote might upset that, hence like good little tools they'll do what they are told to at the proper time.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 1:03pm

      Re: "Sign there. No you don't need to read it, you're only here to sign it."

      I suspect that money and their contrived need for it placates any offense they might take.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 3:08pm

        Re: Re: "Sign there. No you don't need to read it, you're only here to sign it."

        Most likely, yeah. They don't care if they're used as tools so long as they're well paid and given special treatment for it. Things like 'personal integrity' or 'professional pride' simply don't enter into it, drowned out by all the power and money they enjoy.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2016 @ 1:07pm

      Re: "Sign there. No you don't need to read it, you're only here to sign it."

      Spineless? Not a chance. You gotta have a strong back to heft them big ol' bags of cash over your shoulder and lug 'em home.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 2:26pm

    Entertaining

    WHY?
    What in a basic trade agreement is SUPPOSED to be Secret?
    More secret then any FOIA request and Lots of Black lines on every page you get??

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 3:14pm

      Re: Entertaining

      What in a basic trade agreement is SUPPOSED to be Secret?

      That, my friend, is the $64 billion question.

      The answer whatever it is is making someone $64 billion.

      Why, is because thing that make $64 billion are often not very good for the public.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 3:26pm

    When, in a democracy, someone tries to circumvent public input or representation...

    ...when trying to dictate policy that is nothing short of a coup attempt.

    Much like when you tell your sex partner don't do that and he does it anyway, that violates consent and is assault.

    So what is curious to me is why this is not being regarded as a coup by, like, everybody.

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 10 May 2016 @ 7:21am

      Re: When, in a democracy, someone tries to circumvent public input or representation...

      It's got the word "trade" in it, Uriel, and everyone who dares object is cast as being anti-trade.

      It's a clever ploy that works all too well on idiots.

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

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 8:18am

        Idiocy

        Over here in the US, we had a period where pollution control rollbacks were labeled Clear Skies and initiatives to open old growth to clearcutting were labeled healthy forests. And then there's No Child Left Behind which, indeed, left record numbers of children behind.

        People might be idiots, but these days the behaviors of our representatives and officials smack more of malice and hostility than stupidity. More specifically, it's more lucrative to them to sell out the public, or regard the people as the enemy than they'd be seduced by catchy names.

        So yeah, I don't think it's so easy as saying they're behind free trade, especially given how familiar we are with big company protectionism.

        Or maybe in Europe everyone has cheap fiber, free music access and not much advertising at their kids by big booze and tobacco. Is that just a Pacific Rim thing?

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

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 9 May 2016 @ 5:24pm

    Backup copies?

    Has anyone downloaded it yet, so that if they do force him to take it down, it doesn't stay down?

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


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