The German government is challenging the European Commission's decision to stop sending parliamentarians details of the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
A spokesperson from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs confirmed to Handelsblatt that Sigmar Gabriel, the minister for economic affairs, will take up the issue in the coming days with trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström in a bid to secure access for representatives of the Bundestag.
The proposed free trade deal between the European Union and United States would see tariffs dropped, investment simplified and regulations standardized. But it has met fierce resistance from consumers and businesses in Germany, who are worried about falling food hygiene standards and a flood of American goods. Parliamentarians have frequently taken up their causes.
Ms. Malmström announced last week that reports on the tenth round of negotiations would no longer be sent to member states. Instead, the documents would be placed in a reading room in Brussels.
The room is open only to government members of E.U. states, meaning that parliamentarians from all member states are denied direct access to the documents.
But the room is open only to government members of E.U. states, meaning that parliamentarians from all member states are denied direct access to the documents. No mobile telephones are allowed in the reading rooms and notes may only be made on paper with special watermarking.
In justification of its decision, the commission reported that there were “grievous breaches of security with regard to the last round of negotiations.” For example, the German research association correctiv.org recently published confidential documents from the TTIP negotiations.
The lack of transparency in the negotiations about the free trade agreement has repeatedly given rise to criticism. The Commission had responded by promising better access to the negotiation papers, and for a few months members of the Bundestag were able to view restricted documents via an internal computer system.
The decision to bar access was met with dismay. Markus Ferber, a member of the European Parliament from Germany's ruling Christian Democrats, makes the point that members of national parliaments are now “to a large extent cut off from information concerning the course of the negotiations.”
Some parliamentarians believed that national legislators are being singled out. Keeping the documents under lock and key means that “Ms. Malmström doesn't trust the parliamentarians,” says Joachim Schuster, a member of the European Parliament's committee on trade.
Klaus Ernst, a Bundestag parliamentarian from the Left Party, has called on the German government “not only to proclaim transparency, but also to enforce it.”
Anja Stehle is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]