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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2000 / 5_dec_nice



5 december 2000

campaigners say no, non and nein to expanding eu power on trade negotiations

The World Development Movement (WDM) and Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) today condemned moves to give the European Commission expanded 'fast-track' negotiating powers on trade. European leaders meeting at the Inter-Governmental Conference in Nice this week (7-8 December) will decide whether to extend the Commission’s mandate to trade negotiations in services, intellectual property rights and investment and to apply Qualified Majority Voting.

WDM and FoE are concerned that the changes will reduce public scrutiny and democratic accountability over trade negotiations that could have massive implications for citizens in EU countries and around the world. WDM and FoE are particularly concerned that it will allow the commission free reign to negotiate on the EU’s behalf at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The proposed changes to the European Treaty are backed by the European Commission and most of the member states. The move extends the commission’s negotiating mandate and increases its role in negotiating on a wider range of trade issues (services, intellectual property rights and investment) by changing Article 133. This currently covers relations between the European Commission and EU member states only on international trade in goods.

Negotiations on some of these issues currently require unanimity amongst member states and ratification by national parliaments. The changes proposed mean that the European position on most trade-related issues would be decided by Qualified Majority Voting and national parliaments could lose their right to ratify. There would be no increase in the powers of the European Parliament to compensate.

Barry Coates, Director of WDM said:

"The EU is about to enter negotiations on the General Agreement in Trade in Services (part of the World Trade Organisation). Given the threat posed by this agreement to public services worldwide it is madness to reduce the level of public scrutiny by handing the EC expanded fast-track negotiating powers at this time. Considering the prominence of the European question in politics it is astonishing that there has been so little public debate about this crucial change to the European Treaty."

Alexandra Wandel of Friends of the Earth said:

"We need more democratic accountability over international trade negotiations, not less: ministers, parliamentarians and the general public all need to be fully informed about what is at stake and have a say on decisions that could significantly affect their own and others' health and environment. When Environment Ministers opposed the European Commission's attempt to do a deal with the US on biotechnology in Seattle, Pascal Lamy demonstrated very clearly that he was willing to ignore Ministers' demands if they didn't fit the bill. We need to retain our ability to influence trade negotiations, not give the EC carte blanche."

Notes for editors:

1. The proposed changes will expand Article 133 to cover trade in services, intellectual property and investment:

- Current WTO negotiations to liberalise services look set to include a huge range of 160 different sectors, including health, education, water supply, transport, broadcasting and entertainment, which could limit public access to and risk the safety of services in both the UK and developing countries.

- WTO negotiations on intellectual property rights include issues related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and patenting of life forms (the properties of plants and animals), issues of great concern to many citizens all over Europe and elsewhere. Whilst the Commission already has a mandate for some of these areas, the potential for disagreement between the Commission and the Member States was clearly illustrated in Seattle, when Pascal Lamy, the EU's Trade Commissioner, refused to take direction from Environment Ministers on the matter of biotechnology and trade.

- Investment includes the EU's proposals for an investment agreement in the WTO with similar objectives to the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Negotiations in the Organisation for Co-operation and Development (OECD) were abandoned on 4 December 1998 after strong opposition from NGOs, trade unions, academics, many Local Authorities and Members of Parliament. The MAI came to a halt when France used the 'emergency brake' veto option that Nice could remove.

World Development Movement, Dave Timms, Press Officer, Tel: 44-20 7274 7630
Friends of the Earth Europe, Alexandra Wandel, Tel: 32-2-542 01 85  



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