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Members of parliaments are left out of negotiations on transatlantic trade and investment deal and the media coverage is controlled. But Danish Minister for Trade and European Affairs Nick Hækkerup states his communication on the deal is not affected by the Commission media strategy.
On a meeting between EU member state representatives 15. November one item on the agenda was how to keep elected politicians out of the negotiations on a trade and investment agreement between the EU and the US.
Among other things, access has been prohibited for the US Congress members and members of the European Parliament to documents that reveal positions of the counterpart.
Danish version: POLITIKERE OG PRESSEN MÅ IKKE FORPURRE EN EU-USA AFTALE
The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the 28 EU member states, specifically told participants on the meeting that the US Congress had not been allowed access to information on the EU position.
The Congress also have limited access to documents that reveal proposals of its own government. Congress members are allowed only to read these documents in a closed "reading room".
To not bother the American government and to prevent leaks, even governments of EU member states have restricted access to the relevant documents.
According to information obtained by NOTAT, EU governments are only allowed access to documents that reveal specific American proposals if they assign to one of the following procedures:
• Documents are handed over with individual markings, so that leaks can be traced back to the individual recipient.
• Representatives of EU member state governments are only allowed to read American documents in a "reading room" from which the documents cannot be removed or copied.
However, members of EU national parliaments remain as barred from information on the American proposals, as the Congress in Washington is about the European proposals.
For the Parliaments to see
Danish Minister for Trade and European Affairs Nick Hækkerup points out in a comment to NOTAT that he wants as much openness as possible about the negotiations:
»Therefore I have made sure that the Committee of European Affairs in the Danish Parliament has been given access to the confidential negotiation directives that constitute the frame of the Commission's negotiations with the US. Additionally, the government has consistently informed the Committee of European Affairs in the Danish Parliament on the status of the preparation and introduction of the negotiations. My predecessor and I have both participated in consultations and answered numerous questions from the Parliament.«
The Minister's comment does not contradict the information that Danish MPs are not allowed to know about the American proposals.
Not only politicians are kept at a distance of the negotiations.
In an internal media strategy, on which NOTAT has previously reported, the Commission emphasizes two central needs:
• The need to at an early stage of the negotiations define the terms of the debate by communicating positively about what the agreement is about rather than being drawn reactively into defensive communication about what agreement is not about.
• The need to react quickly and proactively by monitoring the public debate, producing targeted communications material and deploying that material through all channels including online and social media.
The media strategy was discussed on the initiative of the Commission on an extraordinary meeting 22. November where member state officials participated.
One participant at the meeting, press official Martina Smedberg of the Swedish EU representation in Brussels, told NOTAT the document was "clumsy":
"Monitoring the public debate is not something that we should concern ourselves with. The document was handed out at the meeting, I don't think anyone had read it in advance. It was not at the root of any decisions".
The Danish participants refuse to comment on the record. Only the Minister is meant to do so and he was never informed about the meeting. Subsequently, he has been so.
When asked about the Commission's media strategy, the Danish Minister of Trade and European Affairs told NOTAT:
"I do not let the Commission's view on communication affect me. I participate openly and actively in the debate, in regards to the press as well as to organisations and businesses with an interest. There is nothing to hide. Overall, a free trade agreement with the US is a very good business for us Danes. It will contribute to securing our wealth and welfare in the future - and strengthen our global competitiveness towards China among others".
According to NOTAT's information, Danish officials had already on the 15. November expressed their concerns about the public debate on ISDS - a controversial proposal in the negotiations to allow private companies to sue states for political decisions that impede investments.
However, this debate was not very widespread in the public at the time of the meeting. Back then, the Danish daily Information had not yet focused on investor protection in its series of articles on the TTIP. And NOTAT had not yet released the December issue on the agreement.
Neither the Minister nor his officials wish to answer the question of which debate was referred to and in what way it was concerning.
"As a matter of principle we do not answer questions about what was discussed at officials meetings".
The Commissioner answers back
Parts of the media strategy discussed at the meeting in November has begun to show.
The Swedish conservative Minister for Trade Ewa Björkling wrote on 16. December in a contribution to the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri that the authority Kommerskollegium will function as public information centre about the agreement and that the government will now invite trade associations, employers, and trade unions to a discussion of Sweden's specific interests.
In the article, the Minister named it "deeply unhappy" that the Swedish left-wing party and the green party have publicly expressed criticisms of the EU-US deal. There is a risk it will weaken the Swedish position.
The EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Grucht has been even more pro-active.
In a contribution to the British daily The Guardian, De Grucht raises criticism of the writer George Monbiot for his "extreme" and "exaggerated" statements that protection of investors should be a "toxic" part of the negotiations.
According to De Grucht, there is nothing "chilling" about the Commission media strategy, as Monbiot has written. On the contrary, the media strategy should be considered a result of the wish to participate in an open debate.
Danish version of this article: POLITIKERE OG PRESSEN MÅ IKKE FORPURRE EN EU-USA AFTALE
The leaked PR strategy (English): ISSUES PAPER COMMUNICATING ON TTIP