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Successful action at secretive Brussels meeting between EU trade officials and services lobby

Brussels, 29 May 2019 -- Yesterday, ATTAC, Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, Oxfam Solidarité, World Development Movement and 11.11.11 organised a press briefing and a small-scale action to denounce a secretive meeting later that day between EU trade officials and services industry lobbyists in the Residence Palace in Brussels. That meeting was organised by the European Services Forum, the lobby group that claims to represent all sectors of the services industry in the European Union.

Statement issued on the occasion of the action.

Press Briefing

Press Briefing 28 May 2019. From left to right: Erik Wesselius (CEO), Susan George (ATTAC), Alexandra Wandel (FoEE), Clare Joy (WDM).

Arriving corporate lobbyists were greeted with banners saying "Stop the EU's corporate GATS Agenda", "GATS Threatening Basic Services Worldwide" and "Our World is not for Sale". The meeting was attended by between 20-30 lobbyists, among which several representatives of the influential UK financial services industry's LOTIS Committee, including Alistair Abercrombie, Christopher Roberts and John Cooke.

At the main gate of the Residence Palace

Mr. Pascal Kerneis, Director of the European Services Forum and organiser of the meeting, was visibly nervous when he saw the small but colourful crowd outside the glass-windowed lobby of the Residence Palace, and quickly started herding the ESF crowd into the closed meeting room: "We should get in, it's already a disaster and we risk attracting press", he was heard saying.

Outside the lobby of the Residence Palace

After an hour, the ESF men emerged from the meeting room to await the invited representatives of EU member states and the European Commission. But only a few member state representatives turned up, among whom the activists recognised Mr. Malcolm McKinnon (Department of Trade and Industry, UK) and another UK government official.

Inside the lobby of the Residence Palace

When the men had retreated again in the meeting room, the left-over badges on the reception desk in the lobby indicated that many of the invited EU member state representatives hadn't shown up, e.g. those from Finland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The badges of some six invited officials from the European Commission were also left untouched.

Maybe they turned up later, but they might also have scented a rat and decided that they better stay in their offices that day, to avoid a direct confrontation with the activists, which had announced their peaceful protest beforehand.

The absence of the Commission could also have to do with a question that was posed to a Commission official in the European Parliament by French MEP Harlem Désir on Monday. Mr Désir had remarked that, in terms of transparency the European Commission didn't seem to have learnt its lesson from Seattle and that while the European Services Forum was meeting representatives of the Member States and the Commission, the European Parliament was barely consulted on the EU's work on the GATS negotiations.

The European Commission official had to acknowledge that "in terms of transparency, the current system was not satisfactory and should be reformed..." In this respect one should note that until today, neither the European Commission, nor the EU Member States have answered an open letter (dated 7 May 2019) signed by over 90 European groups campaigning on the GATS negotiations and asking to institute a transparent process concerning the GATS negotiations.

Erik Wesselius

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