EU: Serve the Public, Not Private Interests in General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Negotiations!
Brussels, 28 May 2019 -- Today, top European corporations (European Services Forum) are inviting key EU government trade representatives for a private meeting in the Residence Palace (Brussels). Here they will discuss the EU strategy for the WTO negotiations to further liberalise trade in services (GATS 2000). The meeting has been timed to coincide with the EU's regular Committee 133 ad hoc services session, where critical trade negotiating decisions are taken. Here, EU government representatives are expected to finalise a series of draft EC GATS negotiating proposals. These draft proposals contain requests for binding commitments to services market opening aimed at 29 WTO member states. They raised considerable controversy when leaked to NGOs a month ago.
Representatives from civil society organisations campaigning on the ongoing GATS negotiations call for an end to such secretive meetings and the exclusive access that the European services industry lobby has to EU trade policy decision-making. Given the potential dangerous implications of the proposed service liberalisation measures for citizens and the environment, civil society groups demand full transparency of the EU requests lists and all Committee 133 meetings.
The European Commission had planned to keep the request documents secret, even after approval by the Committee 133. As the head of the Cabinet of Pascal Lamy, Pierre Defraigne stated before the leak, the request lists "can and will not be made public". But today's meeting shows that the secrecy rule doesn't extend to business. The European Services Forum (ESF) was founded in January 1999 on the initiative of former EU Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan, to get EU services industry guidance for EU GATS negotiating positions. As Mr. Robert Madelin, a high level DG Trade official, put it in September 1999: "[T]he European Commission is convinced of the need to work not only with the member states' experts but directly with European industry [...] We are going to rely on [the ESF] just as heavily as on member state direct advice in trying to formulate our objectives."
The Commission has been true to that commitment. In October last year, DG Trade Services Unit Head Mr. Joćo Aguiar Machado wrote to Pascal Kerneis, Managing Director of the ESF: "(W)e would very much welcome industry's input to this exercise, both in terms of finding out where the problems currently lie and in making specific requests. Without ESF input the exercise risks becoming a purely intellectual one ..." Last January, he sent Mr. Kerneis a reminder, stressing "the importance to provide within the following days any input you [i.e. the ESF] may have, as we are currently finalising the draft requests that will be transmitted to Member States very soon."
These letters point to a sequence of events where business input is prioritised over individual Member State reflections. Meanwhile, the European Commission has not responded to a broad range of concerns raised by civil society groups, including trade unions, except by denying these concerns as false or exaggerated. Until today, the European Commission has made no attempt to assess the impacts of the proposed trade liberalisation measures as demanded by many groups.
Today's private meeting is exemplary for the privileged access to and influence over key EU decision-makers enjoyed by the European services industry lobby. At this occasion, European civil society groups want to put the spotlight on this unjust and non-transparent public-private partnership.
While it can be useful and justified for governments to take business concerns into account when formulating trade policy, privileged and secretive co-operation between business and government does not belong in a truly democratic policy-making process. We expect the European Commission and our governments to serve the public, not private interests!
Therefore we demand those that are responsible for developing the EU's external trade policy to end the privileged relations with the European services industry lobby. The draft EU GATS request lists are the result of a flawed preparatory process and should be withdrawn. High priority should be given to develop balanced and truly democratic mechanisms for civil society input in trade policy preparation.
We reiterate our call to halt the GATS negotations and to conduct a economic, social and environmental assessment of the past and proposed liberalisation measures.
GATSwatch is a joint project of Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute