The European Commission has been accused of a cover-up after refusing to release details of talks between its officials and tobacco companies during negotiations over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty, according to a story by Paul Gallagher for The Independent.
Corporate lobbying campaigners are said to have published documents that revealed the EU’s executive body had met and corresponded with lobbyists from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris.
But the documents, as released, revealed little else. Almost all of the content, including the names of officials and tobacco lobbyists involved, the issues discussed and even the dates some meetings took place, had been redacted.
The documents relate to ongoing talks between the EU and the US over the proposed TTIP trade deal, as well as separate talks between the EU and Japan.
Critics of the trade talks, which centre on reducing the regulatory barriers to international trade for big business, were quoted as saying the documents back up fears that the TTIP will allow tobacco giants to take legal action against the UK and other European governments who attempt to tighten smoking legislation.
The research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) had argued for full disclosure of the documents citing the EU’s freedom of information law and the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The latter’s guidelines oblige governments to limit interactions with the tobacco industry to a minimum and to ensure full transparency of those interactions that occur.
Catherine Day, Secretary-General of the European Commission was said to have refused the request; allowing only “partial access” and stating that the documents “contain elements that relate to the Commission’s negotiating position with regards to tobacco in the ongoing bilateral negotiations for a free trade agreement with the USA and Japan”.
“Whilst I fully recognise the importance of transparency in enabling citizens to follow trade negotiations, I take the view that this public interest does neither outweigh the public interest in protecting the Commission’s international relations and decision-making process, nor the commercial interests of the companies in question in this case,” she said.
Day, however, did not seem to address the issue of the financial interests of EU taxpayers who would be required to foot the bill for defending cases in secretive tribunals and for paying any penalties imposed against their governments. Presumably, because of the secretive nature of the tribunals, the taxpayers would not have any way of assessing whether the costs and possible fines they had to pay were in any way fair or proper.
The CEO campaign group has said it was “deeply concerned about the Commission’s secrecy around its relations with tobacco industry lobbyists” and was preparing a complaint to the European Ombudsman.
Campaigners fear that a system of investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) incorporated within the TTIP will allow multinational firms including tobacco companies to sue European governments in secretive tribunals ruled upon by corporate lawyers.
The full text of Gallagher’s piece is at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/ttip-controversy-the-european-commission-and-big-tobacco-accused-of-coverup-after-heavily-redacted-documents-released-10473601.html