WTO complaint goes to EU ombudsman
BRUSSELS (BELGIUM) / LONDON (UK) – Friends of the Earth today July 14 lodged a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman objecting to the European Commission’s repeated refusal to release documents relating to World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on trade in services .
The documents the European Union’s executive Commission refuses to release relate to the various requests for liberalisation made to the European Union (EU) by other countries and the equivalent requests made by the EU to other countries . The various requests have all been made in the context of the WTO negotiations on trade in services (GATS) .
Serious concerns at the manner in which the GATS round has been negotiated led earlier this year to a formal call by European and UK parliamentarians to the Commission to account for its actions before the European Parliament and to ensure that its negotiations were conducted in an open and transparent way with the involvement of the European Parliament .
Friends of the Earth is also concerned to ensure that, in the face of EU calls for a sweeping expansion of WTO powers at the Cancun WTO Ministerial meeting in September this year, such questions of democratic legitimacy are answered fully and plainly.
Friends of the Earth Corporate Globalisation campaigner, Eve Mitchell said:
“Given the sweeping powers of WTO agreements and the potential of GATS to affect much of our daily lives, it is vital that the process by which those agreements are reached is transparent and democratic. The GATS process has been neither. Parliamentarians and members of the public have simply not had access to key information.”
Friends of the Earth’s Legal Advisor, Phil Michaels said:
“The fact that we have had to make this complaint shows how far the Commission still has to travel to meet its stated aim to give the ‘fullest possible effect to the right of public access to documents’ and to bring about greater openness in the work of the institutions. The main reason given by the Commission for the refusal to release the documents is that doing so would harm the sovereignty of the EU and its member states. The Commission’s argument holds no water either in fact or law and we strongly hope that the Ombudsman upholds our complaint.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Phil Michaels in London (U.K.): +44-207 566 1725 +44-7957 144898 (mobile)
Alexanda Wandel in Brussels (Belgium) : + 49-172 7483953 (mobile)
NOTES TO EDITORS:
 The requests were made by Friends of the Earth England, Wales, Northern Ireland (EWNI) under “Regulation 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents”. The Commission has repeatedly refused access to these documents on the basis that to do so would ‘undermine the protection of the public interest as regards international relations’ (Regulation 4(1)(a)). The request has been refused twice following which it is open to an applicant to commence proceedings before the Ombudsman by way of a formal complaint.
 The documents requested consist of:
a) Requests made by the EU to other WTO members in the context of the WTO negotiations on trade in services in accordance with the Doha Development Agenda;
b) All Requests and supplementary Requests made by non-EU WTO members to the EU c) The Draft Initial Offer by the EU to non-EU WTO members.
 Friends of the Earth’s GATS briefing can be found at http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/gats_gotta_go.pdf
 In a submission from the European branch of the International Parliamentary Network the Parliamentarians noted that “We are especially worried because the GATS negotiations have been undertaken in total secrecy, with no democratic oversight whatsoever. Nothing justifies the fact that parliamentarians are not informed concerning these ongoing negotiations. It is, furthermore, unacceptable that European and national parliamentarians, citizens, public service trade unions and NGOs should only be informed afterwards, when everything has already been decided, so that so-called “consultations” of the European or national parliaments become more formalities. Transparency should be the rule.”