from the 24-seconds-a-page dept
Once I'd registered, I was sent the instructions on how to use the room. The first thing that I noticed was that the terms and conditions had already been the subject of negotiations between the European Commission and the USA. Get your head round that: TTIP isn't even signed yet, and already individual countries have lost the right to decide who gets to read the texts, and on what terms.Here's how the actual visit went:
A guard took me in through security and asked me to lock away my jacket and my bag. He checked that I wasn't taking any camera or mobile phone into the reading room, and then knocked on a door. The heightened level of secrecy made me all the more excited as to what I was going to find, but the room itself was nothing special. There were eight computer work stations, and I was only allowed to sit at the one designated for me. A friendly woman sat in the room. She got me to sign the visitor rules -- if you don't sign, you don’t get in, so I signed. There was a thermos of coffee and a plate of biscuits in the corner. Yet no amount of caffeine or blood sugar would have made it possible to get through the 300 or so pages of text in the two hours I had available to me.Even though this reading room for German politicians has finally been opened -- two and a half years after the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations began -- numerous obstacles are placed in their way to make that opportunity as inconvenient as possible. First, the texts are only available in English -- imagine if US politicians were only allowed to read the French version of the negotiating texts. Moreover, the German visitors to the room are completely on their own: they cannot take even security-cleared specialists with them in order to decode the highly-abstruse wording of the documents. Finally, as Kipping notes above, she had just two hours to get through 300 pages -- roughly 24 seconds per page.
Even racing through the pages made available to her, Kipping says that she was unable to find anything that allayed her concerns about the proposed agreement. And despite the blanket prohibition on giving things away, she does reveal one dirty secret about the TAFTA/TTIP texts:
the documents are simply crawling with typos. The word 'and' is regularly written 'andd' and 'the' often appears as 'teh'. Either the negotiators are really shoddy workers or this is one of those famous security measures we've heard about.
She is doubtless right that these errors are fairly unsubtle attempts to create unique copies so that any leaks can be traced back to their source, since visitors to the reading room are directed to a particular computer when reading the text. And she is also correct in her conclusion:
Anyone who was going into these negotiations to enhance environmental protection, consumer protection and labour standards would have nothing to fear from transparency. Anyone who's engaged in selling out democracy, on the other hand, is obviously going to want to avoid public scrutiny. If [Germany's Minister for Economic Affairs] Sigmar Gabriel and the negotiators are really so convinced of the benefits of TTIP, why don't they just make the text available to everyone online?
It will be interesting to see what other snippets of information escape from the little room as the negotiations proceed, and as more German politicians visit it -- and whether they, too, still encounter texts that are crawling with highly-suspicious typos.