The European Commission has become embroiled in an argument over a potential cover-up of engagement between its officials and the tobacco industry during negotiations over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty. Campaigners from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) published documents revealed under a Freedom Of Information request showing the Commission met and corresponded with lobbyists from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, but that’s all they revealed.
Someone at the Commission had been rather liberal with the black ink. Virtually all meaningful content, such as names of officials and tobacco lobbyists, issues discussed and even dates on which meetings took place were redacted.
The document revealing the meeting with Philip Morris (available here) and the fourteen page letter from British American Tobacco (here) were rendered meaningless at the hands of the censor. In fact the letter even had the page number redacted on page two, but no other page.
— CEO (@corporateeurope) August 26, 2015
CEO says the documents in question relate to ongoing contact with the tobacco industry regarding EU-US trade talks (the notoriously secretive TTIP deal), as well as separate negotiations with Japan.
According to TTIP critics, the documents back up their fears that the deal for reducing regulatory barriers to international trade for big business will allow so-called ‘Big Tobacco’ to take legal action against EU member state governments who want to restrict smoking through legislation.
Philip Morris has already used a comparable trade treaty to bring legal actions against Australia and Uruguay over mandatory plain cigarette packaging and attempts to enlarge health warnings on cigarette packets, reports The Independent
Catherine Day, Secretary-General of the European Commission, explained that she was allowing only “partial access” as the documents “contain elements that relate to the Commission’s negotiating position with regards to tobacco in the ongoing bilateral negotiations for a free trade agreement with the USA and Japan.” Citing fears that fuller disclosure would reveal negotiating positions and tactical considerations which could weaken the EU’s negotiating position, she continued:
“Whilst I fully recognise the importance of transparency in enabling citizens to follow trade negotiations, I take the view that this public interest does neither outweigh the public interest in protecting the Commission’s international relations and decision-making process, nor the commercial interests of the companies in question in this case.”
Anti-TTIP campaigners, on the other hand, see it as more evidence of a cover up. As Breitbart London previously reported, the process is already shrouded in secrecy such that a bounty of €100,000 was recently offered by Wikileaks and others for copies of the documents.
Now the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, who investigates maladministration in EU institutions has got involved, according to EurActiv. She warned the “starkness of the redactions” and absence of clear reasoning behind the censoring risks causing concern about the nature of interactions with the tobacco industry.
In an attempt to answer critics, Commission Deputy Chief Spokesperson Alexander Winterstein contradicted the Secretary General saying the documents in question “had nothing to do with TTIP” and the redactions merely guard commercially sensitive information while observing EU law.
An Irish MEP, Nessa Childers, who sits in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, put a parliamentary question to the Commission demanding confirmation that the redacted documents had “absolutely nothing to do with TTIP.”
Ombudsman O’Reilly says she cannot comment on the legality of the redactions yet, but will be able to demand access to the uncensored papers as part of her investigation. She said:
“I would call on every EU institution to be aware of the damage to trust and credibility that can occur when sight is lost of the wider, political, social, and economic context in which communications are received, at face value, by ordinary citizens.”
For its part the Commission denies that it has been embarrassed or that there has been any form of PR disaster.