Court ruling over privileged access for business in EU-India free trade talks
Judgement to be delivered in Luxembourg
The EU’s General Court has announced a date for the judgement in Corporate Europe Observatory’s legal action, suing the European Commission for withholding information related to the EU’s free trade talks with India. The Commission is accused of discriminating in favour of corporate lobby groups and of violating the EU’s transparency rules. The judgement will be delivered in Luxembourg on 7 June 2013.
The lawsuit (T-93/11) concerns 17 documents related to the ongoing EU-India free trade negotiations. The Commission shared all of these documents in full with corporate lobby groups such as BusinessEurope. But Corporate Europe Observatory only received censored versions, with allegedly sensitive information about priorities, tactics and strategies in the negotiations deleted.
In an oral hearing in Luxembourg in January 2013, the Commission defended its practice, arguing that it was “fully justified” to censor the documents as their public disclosure would undermine the EU’s relations with India and in particular the ongoing negotiations for an EU-India free trade agreement (FTA).
But how can documents that the Commission has already shared with the business community at large suddenly become confidential and a threat to the EU’s international relations when a public interest group asks for their disclosure? This is the core question raised by the lawsuit.
What is at stake
The judgement comes as the EU and India are trying to sort out final differences in the FTA negotiations in technical level talks between the two sides in Brussels this week.
The negotiations, which started in 2007, have been shrouded in secrecy, with no text or position as yet disclosed to the public. Yet, there are major concerns prompted by the scant information that has emerged that the EU-India FTA will in fact fuel poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. And that the EU Commission and the Indian government have effectively handed the negotiating agenda over to big business (watch the video Trade Invaders).
Resistance has been particularly strong in India where the main opposition parties, industry bodies, street traders, farmers’ organisations and patient groups have voiced concerns over the proposed agreement for some time now.
What is at stake in the lawsuit is whether the Commission can continue its habit 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.