A department that instructs its officials to provide as little information as possible is not interested in genuine dialogue.
Letter from CEO and SOLIDAR in the European Voice
Next week, the European Commission's trade department is holding a seminar under its Civil Society Dialogue process, supposedly intended to engage civil society in European trade policy. Yet a glance at the trade department's current ‘To Do' list shows that the concerns raised by civil society during a decade of ‘dialogue' are not being listened to.
In fact, the past three years have seen the EU push for some of the most contested trade deals yet, as part of its Global Europe liberalisation agenda.
For example, the Commission is relentlessly pursuing economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, despite widespread concern that they will jeopardise tens of thousands of jobs, small producer livelihoods and ecosystems. Even the World Bank has raised concerns about how these agreements will affect the world's poorest countries.
Just this month, EU-Colombia trade negotiations were also relaunched. In the past ten years, 2,711 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia – and the list of human-rights abuses is endless. But this has not deterred the Commission from ploughing ahead with negotiations despite calls from civil society, trade unions and European Parliamentarians to suspend the talks.
The trade department's ‘dialogue' has also failed to make the EU's trade policy any more transparent, accountable or less tailored to the interests of big business.
Civil society is continually told that negotiation details are too sensitive to be shared, yet corporate lobby groups such as BusinessEurope and the European Services Forum demonstrably enjoy access to the trade department's top secrets. Research conducted by campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) on the development and implementation of the Commission's Global Europe strategy suggests a clear process of joint policy-making between big business and the trade department.
On top of that, a leaked trade department internal memo reveals that officials are given guidance on interpreting requests for information from civil society as narrowly as possible. The memo also advises staff to conceal information about consultation processes and informal contacts with stakeholders from public scrutiny – particularly those with industry. “Don't refer to the great lunch you have had with an industry representative privately,” is one piece of advice.
CEO has just filed a complaint with the ombudsman about this obvious attempt to obscure from public scrutiny the trade department's intimate relationship with corporate lobbyists.
If the trade department really wants to engage civil society in its policies, it must take our concerns about both the content and the process of EU trade policy-making seriously. Not hiding information from the public would be a good way to start.
Conny Reuter, secretary-general, SOLIDAR
Pia Eberhardt, Corporate Europe Observatory