Dublin MEP Nessa Childers has questioned the Commission over the disclosure of heavily redacted documents blacking out all the substance of the EU executive’s dealings with the tobacco industry over trade talks.
Ms. Childers is concerned with the implications for public health of the Commission’s secret exchanges with industry representatives, particularly in the context of the ongoing EU-US trade and investment agreement negotiations.
The Dublin MEP tabled a number of parliamentary questions on foot of Commission Secretary-General Catherine Day’s refusal to grant civil society public access to the substance of meetings between EU executive officials in charge of international trade and the tobacco industry.
Ms. Childers said:
“I find it bemusing that Secretary-General Day agreed to the partial disclosure of documents that had initially been denied in response to a freedom of information request, only to have them so thoroughly blocked with a black marker as to completely hide their contents.
“This level of secrecy undermines the legitimacy of trade talks and raises questions about the propriety of the Commission’s contacts with big tobacco when they should be making them transparent and kept to the minimum necessary to regulate this industry, in accordance with World Health Organisation rules that it has subscribed to.
“I would like to see if the Commission can shed light on the inconsistencies within Secretary General Day’s response and between it and yesterday’s denial from the Commission’s team in charge of EU-US trade talks that these documents have nothing to do with the transatlantic trade – TTIP – agreement under negotiation.
“In the face of all these tarred pages, they seem not only to be very much connected, but also that the Commission is happy to provide the industry with information they don’t want the public to see.”
Notes to editors:
Nessa Childers is a member of the Environment and Public Health Committee in the European Parliament and of a working group against the influence of the tobacco lobby on public policy.
The original access to documents request, the documents in question, as well as Secretary-General Catherine day’s final reply can be accessed below:
Ms. Childers’ parliamentary questions to the Commission, tabled in writing yesterday and today, include the following:
TTIP negotiations, tobacco industry and partial disclosure of documents
Yesterday, the European Commission team in charge of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations publicly stated that the heavily redacted documentation disclosed with the reply from the Secretary-General of the European Commission to Corporate Europe Observatory’s confirmatory application for access to documents under regulation 1049/2001 – Gestdem 2015/1635 (Commission reference SG.B.4/CJ/ps – sg.dsg2.b.4(2015) 3844446) “is not about TTIP and has absolutely nothing to do with it”.
Yet, in point 2.1 of her above-mentioned reply, the Secretary-General invokes Article 4(1)(a), third indent of Regulation 1049/2001 to justify the application of exceptions to disclosure, on the grounds that the documents “contain elements that relate to the “Commission’s negotiating positions with regard to tobacco in the ongoing bilateral negotiations for a free trade agreement with the USA and Japan […] The disclosure of these elements would reveal the Commission’s negotiating positions and tactical considerations. This, in turn, would weaken the EU’s position in the ongoing negotiations […] thereby reducing the margin of manoeuvre of the Commission in the context of the free trade agreement negotiations.”
Could the Commission therefore confirm that the heavily redacted documentation in question has absolutely nothing to do with TTIP?
Need for confidentiality to safeguard EC negotiating positions in international relations
In point 2.1 of her reply to Corporate Europe Observatory’s confirmatory application for access to documents under regulation 1049/2001 – Gestdem 2015/1635 (Commission reference SG.B.4/CJ/ps – sg.dsg2.b.4(2015) 3844446), the Secretary-General of the European Commission states that
“the Commission has not shared with tobacco companies the Commission’s negotiating positions and tactical approach; it has remained in listening mode when meeting these organisations. In fact, the Commission received information from these companies that, in case its content is known, would enable one to deduce such positions and approach concerning the relative importance of different barriers and their assessment of what might or might not be achievable in the negotiations. If this information was revealed, it would enable the negotiating partner to deduce such positions and tactical approach.”
Could the Commission explain what sources of privileged information it understands are available to British American Tobacco so as to allow the company to produce “their assessment of what might or might not be achievable in the negotiations” in such an accurate manner as to enable the negotiating partner to deduce such [Commission] positions and tactical approach?
If this stems from the Commission’s questions, how can the Commission claim to have remained in listening mode?