Bursting the Bubble

TTIP – Post Election, Bureaucratic, & Information Access Hurdles

7 July 2014 | by

As the new parliamentarians, and Juncker settle into their new roles whilst the Commission is reconfigured, our minds previously taken up by election details are turning back to the issues we may have put on hold, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The sixth round of intense discussions will occur this month, but are the factors impacting the progress the same as before mid-May?

With the results of the 2014 European elections, the EU parliament is more politically charged than before, particularly with matters concerning the greater European project in the long-term. Originally it had been claimed that the TTIP would pass into fruition quickly, yet with strong potential causes for ‘bureaucratic’ delays on both sides, the TTIP timeline may end up requiring adjustment to ensure its completion and passage. Amidst many groups demanding more transparency in the negotiation, a recent European Court of Justice ruling may potentially allow greater knowledge than ever before concerning the debates for the transatlantic agreement. While the topics covered in the pact require discussion, so too does the major considerations from the bureaucratic side of the negotiations.

With the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, more power was given to the European parliament, requiring the parliamentarians to pass the TTIP once completed. In the EP, the chief political block still lies in centrist parties and as such it is believed ratification will still have a majority. Yet, around 25% or more of parliamentarians now belong to parties who are not supportive of the European project, and of those in the majority for ratification, the S & D party may still be convinced by the Left to oppose, which may potentially impact the likelihood of passage.

In this regard, recent pushes for consumer protection, and the growing desire for transparency must be considered. In 2012, the European Parliament voted down the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, claiming impediment of fundamental rights for EU citizens. That parliament was far more moderate than the current, raising further concerns about passage. The ACTA experience stresses the importance in negotiations for European protections to be cherished. In order to truly make a difference, individuals are encouraged to address the issues from within, improving TTIP to benefit all of Europe in the global future, since its progression despite obstacles is likely.

Throughout the process, the concern had been passage of the final agreement by United States legislators, and while the concerns on the EU side have risen with the election, the challenges with the US legislature remain the largest on the minds of TTIP negotiators. In addition to mid- term elections for US legislators this fall that may change the composition dynamics to the benefit or detriment of TTIP passage, the current issue is the bureaucratic process by which the partnership shall be processed at the US national level. For the past 30 years, administrations for both US parties have enacted Trade Promotion Authority acts in order to speed up the approval process once negotiations had finished with a foreign partner. The last TPA expired in 2007 and since 2009 the US administration has been advocating for passage of a TPA, specifically for TTIP. In 2014, David Camp and Matt Baucus introduced the necessary legislative renewal for the fast track mechanism.  Despite its frequent use in the past, the TPA legislation has met significant criticism and has yet to be passed. If this has not been done by the time the negotiations have been completed, the full completion of the TTIP will be delayed on the side of the Atlantic where a delay could pose an additional risk.

Despite the optimistic estimates at the commencement of the TTIP for its speedy conclusion, many have been slightly suspicious that the time frame for the progression of this pact will require an extension. The deadline for the end of transatlantic talks is currently set for the end of 2014, after which the partnership must be debated and passed on both sides. This date for the end of negotiations is optimistic, particularly considering the talk delays spawned from the US government shutdown, delays in the discussion of the major elements during the resettling of the European institutions after the European elections, as well as the delays likely to occur alongside the US mid-term elections. Throughout the process, those with US political background have been warning that despite delays, the deadline for not only talk completion, but final passage has been noon on the 20th January 2017. This is the expiration of President Obama’s second term in office, which in US politics most often means the turnover of political power to the opposition, whether just for the Presidency or for congressional composition as well. If the TTIP has not been fully completed, this could be a major problem for passage. While the optimistic deadline is being maintained, this US factor puts additional pressure on the necessity of the US passage of TPA.

On the 3rd July, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of increased access to documents ‘in the public interest’ which is likely to directly impact TTIP negotiations where many have stressed the lack of information available. Despite its relevance, the case was not brought up specifically with the transatlantic negotiations in mind.  In 2009, Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld brought a case against the EU Council of Ministers over access to documents concerning a specific issue. In its recent ruling the court emphasised that EU institutions must allow access to documents since such documents would effectively impact public interest. Within this, the institutions could still deny access to documents directly pertinent to sensitive negotiation processes. It is, in reality, a small step in the fight for increased transparency, but a step which may result in more information availability from this point forward.

With a potential increase in information available, as well as both topical and bureaucratic debates, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership is likely and justifiably going to see much more attention over the coming months.

What do you think?