How the EU Commission backed business interests in the EU-India trade talks
Legal action has been taken against the EU Commission, suing the EU’s executive in the EU General Court for withholding documents related to the EU’s free trade talks with India. The Commission is accused by Corporate Europe Observatory of discriminating in favour of corporate lobby groups and of violating the EU’s transparency rules.
The case concerns 17 documents including meeting reports, emails and a letter, which the Commission’s trade department (DG Trade) sent to industry associations including BusinessEurope and the Confederation of the European Food and Drink Industry (CIAA). While these corporate lobby groups received full versions of the documents, the Commission only released censored versions to Corporate Europe Observatory, arguing that full disclosure would undermine the EU’s international relations. The censored sections relate to allegedly sensitive information about priorities and strategies in the ongoing trade talks with India including issues such as tariff cuts, services, investment and government procurement liberalisation and health standards.
(Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. This corporate capture of EU decision-making leads to policies that exacerbate social injustice and accelerate environmental destruction across the world.)
What is at stake is whether the Commission can continue its practice of granting big business privileged access to its trade policy-making process by sharing information that is withheld from the public. This practice not only hampers well-informed and meaningful public participation in EU trade policy-making, it also leads to a trade policy that, while catering for big business needs, is harmful to people and the environment in the EU and the world.
The efforts to gain access to the information began on 5 June 2009. Corporate Europe Observatory filed an access to documents request for correspondence and reports from meetings between the Commission and corporate lobby groups, in which the ongoing free trade talks with India had been discussed. The purpose of the request was to monitor whether the Commission was shaping its negotiating position based on the public interest or only on the demands of large corporations. Previous research had shown that DG Trade had disregarded the concerns of small enterprises, trade unions and NGOs when it drew up the EU’s 2006 Global Europe trade strategy.
So, there was every reason to monitor the involvement of big business in the trade negotiations with India. After multiple deadline extensions and a complaint to the Commission’s General Secretary, DG Trade finally responded on 29 April 2010 – nine months after the statutory deadline. The response contained a list of more than 170 documents from 2008 and 2009 identified by DG Trade: meeting reports, emails and letters. Out of these, 50 documents were only partially released. More than 30 documents were withheld in their entirety, including email exchanges and reports about meetings with pharmaceutical companies Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lili and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as pharma lobby group EFPIA. They were involved in lobbying the Commission for tightened intellectual property rights in the future EU-India deal, which public health groups have slammed as a threat to India’s position as the pharmacy of the global South.
Twelve of the censored documents at the core of the lawsuit are meeting reports from the EU’s Market Access Advisory Committee (MAAC) and its working groups. They operate in the context of the EU’s Market Access Strategy and bring together Commission officials, EU member state representatives and corporate lobbyists who discuss regulatory barriers in key markets, developing joint strategies to get rid of them. Market access in India ranks high on the agenda in the groups dealing with postal and distribution services, cars, tyres, textiles, food safety and animal health measures.
Several of the issues raised by these groups have made it onto the EU’s list of the top priority barriers which prevent access to the Indian market. This means that they have been jointly challenged by the EU Commission in Brussels, its delegation in Delhi and by EU member states: in the free trade talks with India, at the multilateral level in the WTO and in all kinds of ‘dialogues’ with the Indian authorities, sometimes with the support of other trading power-hubs like the US or Japan.