Five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have submitted a complaint to the EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who oversees complaints about European institutions, claiming that the European Commission failed to grant access to several documents related to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks.
The Ombudsman has opened a case regarding the allegations but has not yet officially opened an investigation.
“The negotiations have attracted unprecedented public interest, given the potential economic, social and political impact TTIP may have,” she said in a statement.
The NGOs – ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Corporate Europe Observatory and the European Federation of Journalists – said the decision to refuse access contravened requirements of the Aarhus Convention, which has specific allowances for documents that relate to the environment or emissions.
The complaint said the Commission also ignored a July court ruling, in which judges ruled that refusal to allow access to documents should be an exception.
The TTIP talks have been plagued by allegations of secrecy and over-involvement of big business, and O’Reilly recently completed an own-initiative inquiry with recommendations for the Commission to make the talks more transparent. The inquiry builds on her earlier recommendations to improve transparency, released in July last year.
In particular, the latest inquiry said the EU should “inform the US of the importance of making, in particular, common negotiating texts available to the EU public before the TTIP agreement is finalised. The Commission should also inform the US of the need to justify any request by them not to disclose a given document. The Commission needs to be convinced by this reasoning”.
A Commission spokesperson told FoodNavigator via email: “If the Ombudsman opens an inquiry in this case, it goes without saying that the Commission will cooperate and reply within the set deadline.
“Some of the documents mentioned by the complainants were already made public by the Commission (like the negotiating mandate) and others will be made public very soon. This is an ongoing effort of transparency.”
The EU declassified its negotiating document in October, but the US is not obligated to share documents.
The spokesperson added: “TTIP negotiations are already the most transparent trade negotiations that the EU has ever conducted.”
The Commission has until March 6 to respond to the Ombudsman’s own-initiative report.
The eighth round of TTIP talks is taking place in Brussels this week.