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.