On Wednesday 8 July, the European Parliament adopted recommendations to the European Commission on the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Anyone reading the commentary online would have been hard-pressed to discern whether this was an instance of the European Parliament boldly defending EU citizens’ rights or an example of the collapse of a democratic process under the pressure of the vested interests of big business. As legal librarians that is not our call to make, but we can provide access to the documents and explain the procedures that have brought the EU to this point.
First, take the European Parliament’s own press Press release which quoted rapporteur Bernd Lange: “We demand a more transparent process, robust workers’ rights and protection for personal data and public services. We insist that the right of lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic to legislate must not be undermined by private arbitration courts or other bodies”. Compare this with the announcement by campaigning organization Global Justice Now: ‘Campaigners have expressed dismay today that the European Parliament ignored the voice of millions of European citizens to express a positive opinion on TTIP (the US-EU trade deal). After angry scenes in Strasburg in which MEPs accused Parliamentary president Martin Schulz of “shredding the rules of procedure”, several much fought amendments were not voted on.’
One would hardly know that these two releases were published in response to the same event.
Our role as information professionals is to provide access to the relevant information and to allow the facts to speak. The European Parliament’s procedure file is here with a link to the Council’s Register where the documents themselves tell the story. There is also a link to the Commission’s DG Trade web page which is an altogether different kind of site, sporting an image that combines the Stars and Stripes with the EU flag, and using the slogan ‘The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership: making trade work for you’. (Spot the institutional bias?). However, this site could be an important source of information, as it appears to gives access to negotiating texts under the heading ‘Ensuring transparency in TTIP negotiations’. Unfortunately, the links under Investment Protection and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), arguably the most controversial area of negotiation in the entire proposal, only take you to ‘Factsheets’ not to the actual texts.
As a professional librarian, I can only describe this as deeply disappointing. A Eurobarometer poll in 2014 (at p.32) found that 58% of Europeans support a free trade and investment agreement between the EU and the US, but I wonder on what evidence EU citizens are basing their opinions. I certainly would not expect the majority of them to look at the texts under negotiation, but I would hope that their opinions are at least to some extent founded on arguments put forward by those that have.
How can anyone form sound opinions without access to information, and how can anyone challenge or question our negotiators if the relevant documentation is withheld for reasons of confidentiality, as set out in the exchange of letters between the US and the EU on 5 July 2013?
It is hardly surprising, then, that it has been a long struggle to gain access to these texts. On 7 January European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, made recommendations relating to public access to consolidated negotiating texts, greater proactive disclosure of TTIP documents and increased transparency as regards meetings that Commission officials hold on TTIP with business organisations, lobby groups or NGOs. Nevertheless, the easiest way to access what appears to be EU’s “initial offer” in negotiations is still to go to the leaked document published by the BBC We all suffer as a result of this information deficit from the official bodies that should be supporting our research and facilitating the development of informed opinion.
It is very discouraging that as information specialists we are still dealing if not with smoke, certainly with mirrors, as the contradictory and polemical arguments online seem to come from a looking glass world.
Academic Services Librarian
Bodleian Law Library