ENDitorial: Transparency in TTIP? Yes, but in practice, please!

By EDRi · November 19, 2014

The EU and the US are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is a wide-ranging agreement likely to affect digital rights and freedoms. Lack of transparency is at the core of the criticism regarding the negotiations surrounding TTIP and the conclusion of a flurry of free trade agreements.

The TTIP negotiations officially started more than one year ago. In June 2013, the Council of the European Union provided the European Commission with the directives for the negotiations. Nevertheless, the mandate was not officially published until sixteen months later, on 9 October 2014. Many EU and national politicians have praised its publication for bringing greater transparency to the process. However, they appear to have conveniently “forgotten” what the former EU Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, recognised when referring to the mandate before the European Parliament on 15 July 2014: “By the way, everybody has it. It is on the Internet. So what are you talking about?” If publishing something that is already public is “transparency”, we are not heading in the right direction.

Due to the concerns raised by civil society and the increasing opposition to the TTIP, the European Ombudsman launched a public consultation. The European Ombudsman is currently analysing the 300 responses (including EDRi’s) and the 6 000 emails received regarding TTIP. In EDRi’s response, we identified areas for improvement, suggested changes and asked the European Ombudsman to extend her inquiries to other free trade agreements.

Contradictions regarding the secrecy/openness of the negotiations continue to appear not only in TTIP, but also in other free trade agreements negotiations. To the question “Are [Trade in Services Agreement, TiSA] negotiations secret?”, for instance, the Commission responded “No. Trade negotiations are not held in public, but they are not secret.” Actively withheld from the public but not secret – it is hard to see the difference. To our knowledge, the very first document for opening the negotiations still has not been published. The mandate for the TiSA was approved by the Council of the European Union in March 2013, before the TTIP’s mandate. Why is the TTIP mandate now made “public” and not the others? Is it because the TiSA mandate has not leaked yet?

The European Commission, the Council and the Member States seem to have realised the need for transparency. According to a document published by the Council, they want to do so by strengthening their communication, “explain[ing] the basics of the negotiations and [addressing] criticism”. However, transparency is not itself achieved by having more proficient spin doctors telling people that they know what they don’t know. Transparency is achieved by opening the negotiations to the public. Otherwise, mistakes seen in the ACTA negotiations may be repeated.

The new EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, has announced a “fresh start” in the TTIP negotiations. We welcome such approach in practice, not only for the TTIP, but for all free trade agreements – to the benefit of democracy and good policy-making.

EDRi’s response to the European Ombudsman’s Public Consultation on transparency in the TTIP negotiations (31.10.2014)

Minutes of the TTIP debate at the European Parliament (15.07.2014)

Leaked negotiating mandate for the TTIP (18.09.2013)

TTIP’s Mandate declassified (09.10.2014)

(mis)Communicating TTIP (10.11.2014)

Malmström plays transparency card, but gets timid applause (30.09.2014)