Euro MPs attack ‘hypocrisy’ over EU stance on global trade deals

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Series Details Vol 7, No.1, 4.1.01, p2
Publication Date 04/01/2001
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Date: 04/01/01

By Simon Taylor

MEPS have accused EU leaders of hypocrisy for seeking more openness in the World Trade Organisation while blocking efforts to boost democratic srcutiny of their own international trade deals.

Assembly members have attacked Union leaders for failing to grant the European Parliament the same right to veto major trade accords as their counterparts in the US Congress have at last month's Nice summit. "This smacks of hypocrisy and makes the EU's role as a leader in the international trade field almost untenable," said UK Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg, a member of the Parliament's trade and industry committee.

The Union is pushing for WTO decision-making to be made more transparent to overcome public hostility towards the organisation, which spilled over into protests against EU leaders at last month's summit. Over the last two years, the Geneva-based body has been the target of international outrage thanks to campaigning by trade union and environmental groups which accuse member countries of stitching up secretive deals to benefit big business.

Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has launched an extensive round of consultations with campaign groups to boost public confidence in the organisation. But Clegg says the Union missed an opportunity in Nice to increase the legitimacy of the WTO, which polices international commerce.

"The EU does not have a leg to stand on in the WTO on transparency," he said. "There are no other areas of policy which are still in the grip of unaccountable civil servants."

Heidi Hautala, leader of the Parliament's Greens, warned that her group would oppose the Nice Treaty because of its failure to open up trade deals to public srcutiny. "We would not agree to give more competence to the Commission for trade policy without greater transparency. Our group will vote against the treaty and the lack of co-decision is a major element in our criticism," she said.

In Nice, EU leaders agreed to abolish national vetoes for international negotiations on services and intellectual property rights, albeit with special exemptions for film and television production, health, education, social services and transport. However, they ruled out giving the Parliament the formal power to veto trade deals.

MEPs' criticisms of the Nice deal in this area have been echoed by the Commission's trade directorate-general. In a statement posted on its official website, the EU executive says the decision not to give the Parliament greater powers was "regrettable for the democratic accountability of the Union's trade policy".

The Commission argues only modest progress has been made in improving the way Union trade policy is made, although it acknowledges that more has been achieved than in other sensitive areas.

Even in areas where decisions on trade accords with non-Union countries will in future generally be decided by qualified majority vote, this provision will not apply if internal EU legislation in that area can only be agreed by unanimity. This is designed to avoid new Union laws effectively being introduced through the back door.

The European employers' federation UNICE has also expressed disappointment with the Nice Treaty, saying it has "mixed feelings" about the outcome.

"Although we welcome the application of QMV to measures in support of business com-petitiveness and innovation and, partially, to the common commercial policy, the results do not meet our ambitions," it stated. "Trade agreements on some services and intellectual property may now be concluded under QMV, but with exceptions and restrictive provisions open to interpretation. Furthermore, foreign direct investment is excluded from QMV."

Officials at the WTO say it is too early to tell whether the new rules on trade policy agreed in Nice will have a major impact on the Union's ability to negotiate future agreements because the changes include so many qualifications and restrictions.

MEPs have accused EU leaders of hypocrisy for seeking more openness in the World Trade Organisation while blocking efforts to boost democratic scrutiny of their own international trade deals.

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