Commission offers partial transparency on TTIP

EU ombudswoman O’Reilly gave her stance on the  EU-US free trade agreement negotiations (TTIP) and transparency to improve public participation.

The ombudswoman noted that the citizens should have the right to see the TTIP negotiation documents giving the Commission a ten-point list of recommendations. She emphasised that the disclosure must take place in a timely manner, as soon as the documents are ready. Published documents should also be compiled in a comprehensive and updated list to make them easily available.

“The ombudswoman has understood citizens’ concerns. Real-time disclosure of documents is a necessary prerequisite for citizens to influence the course of the negotiations. These recommendations give a strong signal of the direction in which the Commission should take the negotiations.”

Trade commissioner Malmström reacted to ombudswoman’s recommendations immediately and announced that the Commission would publish EU’s text proposals, negotiating positions, as well as a simplified reader’s guide. The Commission emphasised, however, that it could only make public the documents the EU itself has prepared.

“It is good news that the Commission gives, for the first time, access to trade negotiation documents. But this is not enough to correct the shortcomings highlighted by the ombudswoman. TTIP negotiations are held between two parties. Partial access is not transparency, let alone give a clear picture of the negotiation process.”

Negotiations have been strongly criticised of the fact that the corporate interests have outweighed citizens’ interests. The ombudswoman demands various stakeholders, companies’ and civil society submissions to be made public, and only in exceptional cases, and for particularly serious reasons the submission could be kept confidential. She also expects that none of the lobbyist are given any information under-the-counter without everyone else knowing.

“This is welcomed. If both corporate and civil society submissions are published, the balance of different interests affecting the negotiations can be monitored. If the Commission does not take seriously ombudswoman’s recommendation to remove secrecy, the conclusion of the agreement is at stake.”

Next week the Commission is expected to publish the results of the stakeholder consultation held in the summer of 2014 on the controversial corporate investor state dispute settlement (ISDS).

Heidi Hautala will focus on MEPs’ right to information, an expected to be an arms wrestle between the European Parliament and Commissioner Malmström.