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23rd Aug 2019

EU court backs commission on trade secrecy

  • The Commission has the right to restrict access to trade documents, the EU's top court has confirmed

The EU’s top court has ruled in favour of the European Commission’s right to protect the confidentiality of trade documents, in a move that will frustrate campaign groups seeking greater public access to EU trade negotiations.

In a ruling on Thursday (5 June), the European Court of Justice upheld a 2013 ruling rejecting claims by the campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory that the EU executive was within its rights to restrict access to documents.

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  • Last November the commission promised to classify fewer documents "EU restricted”, in a bid to secure public support for the controversial EU-US trade pact. (Photo: Corporate Europe Observatory)

Corporate Europe Observatory launched the legal action in 2011, accusing the EU executive of withholding documents related to the EU’s free trade talks with India.

The case concerns 17 documents sent to industry groups 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 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.

In its ruling, the Luxembourg-based court stated that the documents were “were not intended to be made ‘known to the public”. It added that the commission had initially sent the documents to business groups seeking advice and technical expertise on their negotiating strategy.

“It’s a sad day for citizens when the European Court of Justice effectively sanctions the commission's secretive collaboration with, and for, a tiny elite of corporate lobby groups,” said CEO spokesperson Pia Eberhardt following the ruling.

“Particularly baffling is that this ruling comes in the context of growing public pressure against the current direction of EU trade policy.”

Last November the commission promised to make all negotiating texts on the transatlantic trade and investment pact (TTIP) - that are already shared with governments and MEPs publicly available, and classify fewer documents "EU restricted”, in a bid to secure public support for the controversial EU-US trade pact.

However, the publicly available documents will not include the most sensitive papers on what the commission considers to be “the essence of the confidential part of the negotiations,”, including the offers made by the EU to the US on tariffs, services, investment and procurement.

EU trade law could criminalise whistleblowers

A new directive passed by the European Parliament Thursday to protect European companies from corporate espionage could lead to preventing information on business wrongdoings, critics argue.

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