Corporate Europe Observatory

Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU

Court ruling fails to stop business lobbies' privileged access in EU-India trade talks

  • Dansk
  • Nederlands
  • English
  • Suomi
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Ελληνικά
  • Italiano
  • Bokmål
  • Polski
  • Portuguese
  • Română
  • Slovenščina
  • Español
  • Svenska

In a ruling delivered today following a lawsuit by lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory, the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg 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 lawsuit, which was filed in February 2011, was a last resort for Corporate Europe Observatory after the Commission refused to fully release documents related to the EU’s ongoing trade negotiations with India, including meeting reports, emails and a letter, which it had sent to industry groups including the European employers’ federation BusinessEurope, one of the most powerful corporate lobby groups in Brussels. The Commission claimed that the censored information was 'sensitive' as it concerned EU priorities and strategies in the negotiations and argued that public disclosure would undermine the EU’s international relations.

Corporate Europe Observatory argued that the information, which the Commission had already shared with the business world at large, could not suddenly become confidential when a public interest group asked for it. The group accused the Commission of manifest discrimination in favour of corporate lobby groups and violating the EU’s access to information rules.

In a first reaction to the ruling, 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.”

The judgement comes as the EU and India are reportedly sorting out their lastdifferences, in order to ink their final proposal for a free trade deal before elections in the EU and in India in 2014. On both sides, trade unions, farmers’ groups, patients' organisations and other civil society groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the potentially devastating impacts of the agreement, particularly on access to medicines and the livelihoods of Indian farmers and street traders.

CEO believes that the court ruling has potentially serious implications for other trade policies, such as the upcoming free trade negotiations between the EU and the US.

“Citizens and Parliamentarians are increasingly worried about the risks that the EU’s corporate trade agenda poses to food safety, digital rights and environmental protection. Trade negotiations should be conducted in an open and democratically-accountable way, and it is high time that the Commission stops handing over the negotiating agenda to multinational companies. It is disappointing that the court ruling seems to point in exactly the opposite direction”, stated Pia Eberhardt.

Corporate Europe Observatory will now carefully analyse the ruling and consider next steps. A potential appeal would need to be filed within two months and ten days.

 

 

Related issues: 
 
"There is de facto a systemic collusion between the Commission and business circles"
Civil society organisations denounce European Commission’s leaked proposal
On 17 April, Via Campesina, the D190-20 Alliance and Corporate Europe Observatory held a lobby tour around the Brussels European quarter, highlighting the corporate lobbies who are pushing an aggressive agenda around TTIP (the EU-US trade deal currently being negotiated). There was a particular emphasis on the impacts TTIP will have, if passed, for farmers' livelihoods, food standards, and for the way food is produced in the EU. The next negotiation round will take place on 20 April, this time in New York.
In response to the criticism of the controversial investor rights in TTIP, a number of law firms recently founded a think tank designed to protect the current investment arbitration system: The European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA).
How industry, law firms and the European Commission worked together on EU “trade secrets” legislation.
The first corporate sponsors of this winter's 'historic' UN climate talks (COP21) have been unofficially unveiled: luxury brand Luis Vuitton (LVMH) and Suez Environment, a key member of the French pro-fracking lobby. According to an article by ATTAC's Maxime Combes, others were initially announced in the press (BMW, Vattenfall and New Holland Agriculture) but later denied by the COP21 organisers.
"There is de facto a systemic collusion between the Commission and business circles"
The way in which the Commission has appointed the head of its “in-house think-tank” has demonstrated its woefully inadequate conflict of interest assessment for new appointments, says Corporate Europe Observatory. The conflict of interest assessment applied to the former chief of the Lisbon Council, Ann Mettler as head of the new European Political Strategy Center (EPSC) does not appear to have explored her close cooperation with some of the biggest corporate players in the digital and technology market. In CEO's view, this casts serious doubts on the independence of the advice that is to be given to President Juncker and his college of commissioners.

Alternative Trade Mandate

Corporate Europe Forum