European ombudsman calls for more transparency in EU-US trade talks

Out-Law News | 04 Aug 2014 | 11:00 am | 2 min. read

The European Ombudsman has called on the Council of the European Union to publish the EU negotiating directives for ongoing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the US.

Emily O'Reilly said she has also proposed “a range of practical measures” to the European Commission to “enable timely public access” to TTIP documents and details of meetings with stakeholders.

O’Reilly said that while EU institutions had made “a considerable effort to promote transparency and public participation” surrounding TTIP, “concerns have been raised about key documents not being disclosed, about delays, and about the alleged granting of privileged access to TTIP documents to certain stakeholders”.

O’Reilly said: “I agree that not all negotiating documents can be published at this stage, there needs to be room to negotiate”. However, she said: “Given the significant public interest and the potential impact of TTIP on the lives of citizens, I am urging both these EU institutions to step up their proactive transparency policy."

In a letter to the secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, Uwe Corsepius, O’Reilly said the basis on which the European Commission had been asked to negotiate on behalf of the EU, the so-called ‘negotiating directives’, had “not been published proactively by the Council... nor, to my knowledge, has the Council reacted positively to any application it may have received for public access to this document”.

O’Reilly said “a high level of transparency of the aims and objectives of the European Union constitutes a precondition for a successful outcome of the TTIP negotiations”.

The TTIP negotiations aim to cut tariffs and to address differing technical regulations and standards between the EU and the US, the ombudsman said. If agreed, TTIP “will be the biggest bilateral free trade agreement in history”. However, the ombudsman said civil society organisations had “raised concerns that the EU's high environmental, health, and consumer standards risk being lowered”.

Investigations have now been opened by the ombudsman “to help ensure that the Council and Commission establish a more proactive approach to the transparency of these negotiations”, according to a statement released by the ombudsman’s office on 31 July.

The Council and Commission have been asked to send their opinions on proposals put forward by O’Reilly by 30 September and 31 October 2014 respectively.

In a report published by ‘The Parliament Magazine’ on 16 July, Irish member of the European Parliament Nessa Childers said: “We have recently been brought up to date on the Commission's trade dealings through the unfortunately usual means of leaked documents. The leaked Commission papers show that it is pushing for the mutual recognition of banking and finance rules that would enable market players to do business across the Atlantic under the laws that apply in their own jurisdiction.”

Childers said: “This proposal from the Commission will give a competitive advantage to those hailing from the side that applies the lightest touch to finance. This may well lead us down a regulatory race to the bottom."