Although some aspects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the US and EU are more transparent than with other negotiation counterparts, many aspects of the deal are even more secretive than any other deal.
“In order to influence the content of the agreement, you need to do that while the negotiations are going on,” said Paul de Clerck, Head of the economic justice team for Friends of the Earth Europe. “But in order to influence it effectively, you need to be able to know what’s being negotiated.
“Otherwise it’s like shooting in the dark. You want to influence something but you don’t know what exactly it is that you’re influencing.”
De Clerck views transparency as a tool that facilitates this influence and not as the end objective, because it still wouldn’t guarantee citizens’ influence. It’s a step, although there’s still a long way to go before these deals are fully transparent to the public, which seems to be the direction the EU says it wants to go.
As globalization and international dealings have become more complex, so have trade agreements. New deals, like TTIP, include economic and regulatory policy beyond traditional tariff-based treaties that were negotiated away from the ears of the business they’d affect. These new types of treaties are negotiated in the same way as the old, despite their larger and more profound effects on citizens’ lives.
After information of TTIP negotiations was leaked, the Commission addressed criticism towards the secrecy of this deal by publishing position papers and summery documents of each round of debating.
“We don’t have this information for any other EU negotiations,” said Pia Eberhart, a Research and campaigner for the Corporate Europe Observatory who became the face of the anti-TTIP movement in Germany last year. “What we’re still missing, and will remain missing until the very end, is the essential information that’s needed to understand the risks and benefits of the situation.”
Although these aspects are more transparent with TTIP than with other negotiation counterparts, many aspects of the deal are even more secretive than they are for most deals.
This is most clearly illustrated with the consolidated texts, which are drafts that combine the positions of both parties on every issue once an agreement has been reached. In reaction to the leaks, these texts–which are normally provided to MEP’s and other officials electronically–can now only be read in secured and restricted reading rooms.
“When it comes to Governments and parliamentarians,” Eberhart said, “you can argue that TTIP is even more secretive than other trade talks, because now our government representatives and parliamentarians can’t look at the texts with their colleagues or experts, take notes, or even inform their parliaments about it.”
The power for citizens to affect change on the outcome of negotiations like this is nonexistent. But they do gain power and representation when the time comes to choose to adopt or decline the final deal.
Once negotiations are concluded, the final treaty will be published for the public and the European Union parliament, commission and the United States congress vote on the deal.
This is when citizens can campaign for or against the legislation but at this stage, no amendments are allowed, so representatives can only vote yes or no to the whole package.