Don’t- air your dirty cloths publically: TTIP, mission transparency
It took roughly more than a year and 7 rounds of negotiations to persuade the Institutions that it had mainly been the lack of transparency the magnet of the harsh critics to the whole TTIP affair.
So far, the answer was to declassify the negotiation mandate, which has been allowed the European Commission (EC) to discuss terms and range of TTIP clauses since its inception 17th June 2013. Yet, the text was online earlier than the official decision operated by the Council to undisclosed the mandate the last October, due to the relentless work of leaking made by the Green MEPs Giegold, Harms and Keller (1). An open secret, some may argue, but the path ahead is still windy before leading to a text being in the practice more transparent, balanced, fair and able to encompass civil society. Allotted as priority, both in the 10-points grocery-list styled Junkers’ plan as for the Italian presidency, the TTIP has been depicted under countless lights. Its main achievements are thought to be the augment the load of trade and investment between the EU and the US freeing the potential of the entente in terms of growth, setting of new global standards and access to market.
Broadly speaking, the audience was already well acquainted with the objectives expressed in the 17-pages long document declassified in early October 2014. The mission “transparency” has still to be accomplished. Commissioner Cecilia Malmstöm seemed to be on the right track since her appointment to the post showing the commitment of the new Commission to translate into real actions the intention to unveil the mysticism lingering over the Treaty (2). During the works of the Plenary she set a sort of 4-steps roadmap to nail the transparency aim pointing first the need to empower and include all the MEPs properly into the debate. At present, documents are funnelled through the Parliament Commission for International Trade –INTA– by the EC to be handed only in lectures room for the MPEs non-member of the abovementioned committee. De facto, the EC shall communicate to the EP the same information it shares with the Council according to the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty and the Framework Agreement between the EC and EP, included confidential documents. A second step in direction of more transparency for the forthcoming phases of the on-going negotiations echoes these legal background disposals. Namely, to publically issue the texts of the negotiations already shared with the EP and the Member States.
In the ultimate attempt to make the EU decision-making process more open and uncurbed from the red-tape bridles, Ms Malmström has suggested equally to reduce the number of documents classified as “restricted”, as third step. Eventually, the forth and conclusive phase would be to commute into a healthy and stable practice to diffuse a public list of documents related to the TTIP before and after the next coming round of negotiations.
A significant voice in this whole affair belongs to MPE Lange –S&D, Germany – serving as Chairperson of the INTA committee for the 8th Parliamentary term. In the wake of the plenary session held in Strasbourg on the 25th of November he clearly stated that the EP may deliberate properly on the TTIP only if appropriately informed on the issue, reason why he underlined as well the unrelenting involvement of the MEPs in monitoring the negotiations phases.
At its early stage, the EP eagerly backed the opening of the negotiations, expressing the demand to cooperate with the other European Institutions and handle with care the tricky points at stake, such as the introduction of genetically modified organisms – GMOs – or other goods perceived as toxic into the EU’s market, and so on. The watchdog role of the EP has been till now hindered, in the practice, as long as its Members do not have full access to document, either the power to impact on the setting of the agenda and of the priorities of the debate. Cutting the EP out of the debate on the scope and range of the TTIP negotiations, it downgrades the role of the MEPs by squeezing it between the “yes, if” and “no, unless”. Noticeably, the prominent level of talks and the willingness to set global standards will produce side-effects on third Countries economies (3), implement future negotiations practices, divert significant bulk of goods and investment flows featuring actual world economic exchange and also, impact on the dialogue within the family-like structure of the European Institutions. Being part of the same chain, these elements amplify the perception that a certain level of discretion is reasonable to avoid hampering the outcome of the TTIP, but the EU must not be at the mercy of the US mediators, who push for more secrecy of the negotiations.
What ended on under the spotlight catching the critics for the poor transparency of the affair are i.e. the vagueness of the mandate wording, besides the biased composition of the panel of experts called to express their advices as for the limited number of NGOs and Trade Union having access to the information. The withheld information appears to be more disruptive and irritating than if they were restricted for the purpose of the negotiation.
The hope is that the crave to set new practices will also inject the transparency serum in all the agreement negotiated by EC on the behalf of the Member States and EU institutions, whatever it takes, except for lowering the existing ones in terms of quality.
In the past, the two Transatlantic partners worked to seize the deregulation of the market and actively promote the practice of deregulation, but the opposition of the so-called World South and the hyper-activism of the globalised civil society blocked partially the goal to be scored. The TTIP itself, being a sort of spin-off of reviving that dream, needs to be declined under the most pressing issues animating the public opinion, namely seek after a holistic approach trying to clinch together low politics and economics above of egoistic particular interests.
The EU and its dynamic civil society, they are such stuff as the “dream” is made on…
Why transparency? Of course, it is a logic assumption that everyone would benefit from more information so not to be afraid to be on the brink of taking a leap into the unknown or mere subjects of greater powers. If something is missed or hidden, automatically the whole packet of issues included in the negotiation turns to be suspicious and more exposed to critics.
Within the civil society ranks, the academics, professionals and highly-educated individuals led the wave of protests leveraging and raising awareness on the potential threats for individuals’ everyday lives. Meanwhile, the message from those involved in the negotiations is vague and does not persuade entirely with the pros that an embedded FTA regime between the UE and US may bring about. Statisticians’ remark noted that graduates and academic personnel are the most engaged and aware of the TTIP affair, or at least those able to draw up eminent conclusions – negotiators apart, obviously. Snatching defeat from this alleged jaw of victory called TTIP, these actors claim dark clouds over the field of culture, education, environment and all the other prime-class public services which the EU public is used to.
The lack of transparency undermines one of the cornerstones of EU mission, properly citizens’ control and influence on the decision-making process, shaping the policies that –may– affect them.
A civil society’s victory or simply the effect of the change of balance occurred within the “Eurobubble” with the new commissions’ elections and the midterm elections within the “Beltway” with the new majority at the Congress.
Accordingly to Commissioner Malmström, the TTIP is the most transparent agreement being negotiated by the EC by now. But, as mentioned beforehand, it needs to be more transparent and democratic in its practices, since the head over heels engaged civil society in Europe just cannot get enough of transparency when health, welfare and jobs are at stake. Thanks to their campaigns against the TTIP and petitions, civil society’s involvement has attempted to avoid leaving a blank check in the US negotiators’ hands. Mainly, international trade is no longer perceived as an exclusive domain for businessmen and negotiators since the scope of negotiations has broadened from the mere exchange of goods, services and regulations. Indeed under the GATT, the first wave of FTA included only tariff reduction for trade in goods not covering copyright or state-investors’ dispute settlement (ISDS). Besides, the globalisation and technologic progress has allowed the information society to wear the cloths of protestors as well as contributors, coming up with new ideas and suggestions. Moreover, the EU building gave instruments to its civil society to access to the information, to build up opinion and strengthen the bottom-up communication with the institutions (4). Under this lens, a significant actor in the TTIP – civil society relation has been played by Ms Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman in office, who received questions and channelled those to the involved institutions. After her investigation opened in July, she addressed the EC with her conclusions asking to publish documents requested by the public, establish a register of TTIP documents and to make public the list of stakeholders’ working with the EC to fix points of the TTIP. Further, she invited the business groups to disclose non-confidential versions of the documents submitted to the EC (5). Civil society may be empowered and understand procedures affecting directly their everyday life, so far to lead a real solid debate trigging their reactions and reactivate a bottom-up dialogue that in this TTIP-affair seems to be getting looser and looser every day. It was since 1999 during the protests in Seattle against the WTO that the world had not experienced such a massive mobilisation, dislocated in the main EU cities and online, against a trade and investment agreement. A precedent in the EU history of massive involvement peaked on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – ACTA – in 2012. Rejected by the EP also for the lack of transparency that had marked the negotiations, the discussion on the ACTA lead forward a more structured and concrete reflection on background aspects related to trade and investment agreements. This time, apparently, the ACTA case set a precedent and has been a lesson learnt in time giving the EC belated decision to declassify some documents on the TTIP. Bearing in mind the enormous bulk of affairs TTIP – related, but not limited, to economic sphere, the rejection of this latter may trigger a boomerang effect on the Transatlantic relations (6). By the time, the mobilisation of the pro and cons parts has shown a more deeply concerned civil society than the involved parts regarding the effects of the partnership. Is a more “smoke than fire” affair?
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