As the free trade negotiations between India and the European Union enter the final stages, a googly has just been bowled by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEOb), a lobby watchdog. The Brussels-based organization announced today that it was suing the European Commission on charges of privileging corporate lobby groups in the India-EU FTA talks and violating the EU’s transparency rules.
According to a statement it issued, the case concerns 17 documents, including meeting reports, emails and a letter, which the Commission sent to industry lobby groups including Business Europe, the EU’s main industry lobby and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Despite having repeatedly been approached, the EC has allegedly refused to release the documents in question fully to CEOb.
The Commission claims that the censored information is sensitive, as it concerns the EU’s priorities and strategies in the ongoing trade negotiations with India. It argues disclosing this information would undermine the EU’s international relations.
CEOb trade campaigner Pia Eberhardt rebuts this argument, noting that since the Commission has already shared information with the business world at large, the same information cannot suddenly become confidential when a public interest group asks for it. “This is a case of manifest discrimination and violates the EU’s access to information rules,” she adds.
Among the censored documents is a letter to Business Europe from former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in March 2008, from which comments on the EU and Indian negotiating positions have been deleted. In a handwritten note at the bottom, Mandelson had expressly invited Business Europe to discuss the letter with the CII.
CEOb’s application for legal redressal will now be reviewed by the EU’s General Court and notice sent to the European Commission. The Commission has two months and 10 days to reply, but can seek an extension. Once the written procedure is declared closed, the General Court will set a date for an oral hearing in Luxembourg, where it is headquartered.
The EU-India FTA is expected to be inked by the middle of this year. The chief negotiators of both sides are scheduled to hold the next round of negotiations in Brussels at the end of this month.