European Ombudsman Jacob Söderman has condemned the European Commission's secrecy about the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). For over two years the Commission has refused Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) access to key documents about its involvement in the business dialogue. In a 'draft recommendation' dated June 27, the Ombudsman concludes that the refusal is "maladministration" and calls on the Commission to give CEO access to the requested documents.1
Through the TABD over 100 of the largest EU and US-based corporations jointly identify regulations and policies which they consider "barriers to transatlantic trade". 2 TABD conferences are attended by high-level delegations from the European Commission and the US government. Due to the far-reaching, high-level political support it enjoys, the industry body routinely succeeds in weakening or postponing new consumer and environment protection measures on both sides of the Atlantic. The TABD also maintains significant influence over EU and US policies within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Despite the fact that the TABD is a private sector group with no official status in the EU treaties, the Commission refers to its involvement in the TABD events as "negotiations".
The Ombudsman's decision comes more than two years after CEO first requested access to the documents. The disputed papers are the Commission's briefing notes for the TABD's November 1999 'CEO Conference' in Berlin. These documents, including pre-prepared speeches for Commissioners and other European Commission staff, are the only real source for monitoring what was said behind closed doors.
The Commission denied CEO access to the documents claiming it was protecting "international relations" and arguing that there is "no real public interest in disclosure". The Ombudsman concludes his recommendations by saying that CEO "is entitled to invoke a public interest in disclosure of documents concerning the Commission's relationship with TABD". Söderman also states that it is not for the Commission "to say which documents might or might not be useful for citizens in carrying out monitoring of the Commission's exercise of its powers." The Commission now has until the 31st of October 2002 to respond.