De Gucht: More gaffes with the talks on the EU-US free trade agreement

Athens informal meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade). European Commissioner Karel de Gucht, responsible for Trade (on the left), shakes hands with Greek Deputy Minister Notis Mitarachi, who held the rotating Presidency of the Council. (Greek Presidency photographic library, 28/2/2014).

Athens informal meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade). European Commissioner Karel de Gucht, responsible for Trade (on the left), shakes hands with Greek Deputy Minister Notis Mitarachi, who held the rotating Presidency of the Council. (Greek Presidency photographic library, 28/2/2014).

European Commissioner Karel de Gucht, responsible for Trade, speaking after the informal Athens meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade), attended by the 28 Foreign Trade ministers, failed to accurately report the Council’s opinion on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is the free trade agreement currently under negotiation between the Union and the US. De Gucht, as all European Commissioners, participates regularly in the Council of Ministers meetings securing a direct exchange of views, while shaping EU policies. The two Press releases issued after the meeting, one by the Presidency of the Council and the other by the Commissioner, largely diverged in reporting the focal points of the discussion.

It must be reminded that the EU legislation has to be approved by all three EU bodies, the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The last institution, the EU’s executive arm, introduces the draft laws, but they can’t be finalized without the consent of the other two bodies, in what is called the trilateral negotiation. This means the Commission is obliged by the legislation and the standard practice of the EU procedures to genuinely report what the Council’s position is, in respect to a Commissioner’s proposal. Currently, De Gucht oversees the negotiations on this massive and far-reaching free trade deal with the US, the famous TTIP.

Diverging narratives

Obviously, the paramount importance of the TTIP obliges De Gucht to take seriously into account the relevant policy lines formulated by the Parliament and the Council. Understandably, this obligation is best served if the Commissioner reports authentically in his Press releases the essence of what the Council focused upon and on what it seemed to have agreed. The slightest misinterpretation and misreporting on the Council’s discussion is of course out of the question. Still, De Guchet has failed to have authentically reported on the Athens meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade). Let’s see where an honest and impartial ‘reader’ can identify a contradiction between the two Press Releases issued after the meeting, one by the Council’s Presidency and the other by the Commissioner.

While the Greek Deputy Minister Notis Mitarachi, who held the rotating Presidency of the Council stated in his Press release, that “transparency in transatlantic transactions constitutes a top priority for the Greek Presidency of the Council and for the EU”. The Presidency’s statement also concluded that, “The E.U.’s overall aim is to enable European companies to gain easier and cheaper access to the U.S. and promote transparency”.

De Gucht made no mention of that. His Press release doesn’t contain the slightest reference to “transparency”. The word is missed out. Instead, he stated that he gained “the full support of all ministers and all our member states for the ongoing TTIP negotiation process”. The Greek Presidency makes no reference at all to member states’ unanimous support for De Gucht’s negotiations with the Americans. There is more to it though.

The civil society reacts

During the last months, the Commissioner is confronted with strong reactions from many quarters. Objections are focused amongst other things primarily on the European data protection in the US. The European Parliament has kind of ‘ordered’ De Gucht, not to accept the inclusion of this issue in a trade agreement. The legislators have warned that if the TTIP covers this subject, the Parliament will reject it altogether. On top of that, many and important civil society organisations have pointed out that the European negotiators must be adamant when it comes to health issues, connected with the circulation and the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms. Obviously, the right of member states to ban the cultivation of GMOs on their soil must be absolutely safeguarded, along with the right to impose restrictions.

The ‘red line’ that Europe should maintain at all costs in the TTPI negotiations also contains the traditional ban from the EU of animal products with hormones. Such products are produced and marketed freely in the US. All three themes, namely the protection of data and the ban of free cultivation of GMOs and of the imports of American beef with hormones, have gained wide recognition and attract the vivid interest of the European public opinion. The debate around them draws the attention of the entire EU population.

In view of all that, negotiations on the TTIP seem to be held back and according to De Gucht “we do indeed need to ‘step up a gear’ on the full range of issues”. That’s why he found the opportunity to do something that the Commission rarely does. He asked the member states to use their convincing power and what else, their direct and indirect control on the mainstream media to help the Commission ‘negotiate’ those unpopular issues with the Americans and predictably make concessions.

Throw the ball to governments

For that reason, De Gucht said “No one is better qualified than our own governments to explain to their citizens what TTIP is about and just as importantly what TTIP is not about. So, I welcome the support voiced today by all our ministers to actively engage with all stakeholders and all their national citizens on the importance and benefits of this future deal”. He knows very well though, that all EU governments are engaged in very serious discussions with the stakeholders over the TTIP thorny issues, like the above unpopular friction points. That said, what the Commissioner asks here is the green light by the governments to negotiate on those points and possibly make concession contrary to what the public opinion believes and wants.

All in all, it’s more than certain that De Gucht won’t be able to personally oversee the negotiations with the Americans on issues like data protection, GMOs and beef with hormones. Very simply, because this Commission has only a three-month life left, until the May European election. After a new President of the Commission is elected then, the entire college will assume a caretaking character, not allowed to make important decisions. Unless De Gucht manages to keep his portfolio in the new Commission…However in such a case many people will start thinking nasty things about Brussels and Washington.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Parliament and Council agree drastic cuts to plastic pollution of environment

OECD Secretary-General statement on Europe Day

3 steps to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness in the digital age

DR Congo elections: ‘historic opportunity’ for ‘peaceful transfer of power’ says Security Council

At COP24, countries agree concrete way forward to bring the Paris climate deal to life

Will the outcome of the UK referendum “calm” the financial markets?

Yemen: ‘No justification for this carnage,’ says UNICEF chief, as children in need now outnumber population of Switzerland

Protectionism doesn’t stand a chance in the age of connectivity

Who is to profit from the quasi announced ECB rate cut?

EU and China to do more in common if the global scene gets worse

“Be aware where you put your I Agree signature on and something else”; now Facebook by default opts you in an unseen private data bazar

The three biggest challenges for India’s future

India is investing more money in solar power than coal for first time

Could Rwanda become Africa’s healthcare leader?

Coronavirus fears may have driven over 300,000 UK smokers to quit

Is Eurozone heading towards a long stagnation?

Measles claims more than twice as many lives than Ebola in DR Congo

Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas – OECD/SWAC

Who really cares for the environment?

Emotional control and introspectivity in times of pandemic

What Keynes can teach us about government debt today

Rule of law in Poland and Hungary has worsened

Failing to agree climate action would ‘not only be immoral’ but ‘suicidal’, UN chief tells COP24

Young and unemployed the perfect victims of ‘vultures’

China is a renewable energy champion. But it’s time for a new approach

Stepped-up efforts needed to combat pneumonia; save nearly nine million children’s lives

FROM THE FIELD: Saving the tree kangaroos of Papua New Guinea

For Africa, ‘winds of hope are blowing ever stronger,’ Guterres declares at conference on development

Advancing multilateralism goes ‘hand-in-hand’ with work of the UN

What does reimagining our energy system look like?

Fact-checking Day: Fighting the virus of disinformation on Covid-19

EU Budget: A Reform Support Programme and an Investment Stabilisation Function to strengthen Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union

India’s 1.3 billion residents start 21-day lockdown – Today’s coronavirus updates

Amazon on fire: the interference in global health

Why we need a blockchain bill of rights

A Monday to watch the final act of a Greek tragedy; will there be catharsis or more fear?

5 principles for effective cybersecurity leadership in a post-COVID world

Meet Cipta: the comic book hero using her powers to tackle bullying in schools

MWC 2016 LIVE: BT chief aims to be at UK 5G forefront

We need impartial LGBT+ news to advance human rights

Brussels waits for the Germans to arrive

ACP-EU : Agreement on climate change, migration and post-Cotonou

Supply chains have been upended. Here’s how to make them more resilient

China’s Ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming wishes to Brussels a Happy 2019 Year of the Pig

Europe’s dirty air kills 400,000 people every year

The future of energy is being shaped in Asia

Does the Erasmus program really contribute to the construction of a solid EU identity?

A new global platform to unleash entrepreneurs on the world’s toughest problems

Asian and Pacific economies: decreases in tax revenue highlight need to broaden tax bases

EU-U.S. Privacy Shield: Second review shows improvements but a permanent Ombudsperson should be nominated by 28 February 2019

Fleeing Venezuela: MEPs to probe humanitarian conditions in Colombia and Brazil

5 reasons why biodiversity matters – to human health, the economy and your wellbeing

Sovereign wealth funds could increase equality in a post-COVID world

The European Sting @ European Business Summit 2014 – the preview

Why is Grexit again in the news? Who is to pay for Eurozone’s banking problems?

Syria: UN food relief agency ‘doing everything we can’ to reach Idlib civilians

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Mandatory food labelling Non-Vegetarian / Vegetarian / Vegan’ initiative’

New phenomena in the EU labour market

FROM THE FIELD: Photos highlight agony of West African civil wars

New EU rules and guidance for a fairer online economy

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s