EU Court Backs Secrecy in International Trade Talks

7 June 2013

The General Court of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg June 7 upheld secrecy in trade negotiations and privileged access for business and trade associations.

The plaintiff, the watchdog group Corporate Europe Observatory, said in a summary that the court “concludes that the European Commission did not violate EU rules when withholding information about the EU-India free trade talks from the public, even though it had already shared the information with corporate lobby groups. Corporate Europe Observatory warns that this decision risks deepening the secrecy around EU trade negotiations and legitimises the Commission’s practice of granting corporate lobby groups privileged access to its policy-making, at the expense of the wider public interest.”

The court wrote that the documents requested by the group were “provided to trade associations and companies participating as experts in the work” on the free trade agreement “for the sole purpose of enabling all the participants to fulfil their roles as advisors to the Commission.”

Corporate Europe Observatory trade campaigner Pia Eberhardt said:

There is a big risk that the Commission will see the court ruling as a green light to continue to develop its trade policy behind closed doors, together with, and for, a tiny elite of corporate lobby groups. The result is a trade policy that caters for big business needs, but works against the interests of the bulk of the population in the EU and other parts of the world.

Access Info Europe expressed “regret” about the decision. “The central question in the case Corporate Europe Observatory v European Commission revolves around whether or not dissemination of minutes of meetings and email correspondence would harm the EU’s international relations. The Court’s ruling is particularly regrettable given that these documents had been shared with representatives of the European and Indian business communities for consultation. Germany joined the case in support of the European Commission,” the group said.

Access Info Europe said that sharing the documents with business associations and multinational companies can be regarded as “public dissemination” and that the materials thus lose their secret character.

 

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