Is it a sensation or a tempest in a teacup? Brussels says the secret TTIP documents are nothing but blueprints. Making any progress in the free trade agreement with the US is tedious. Bernd Riegert from Brussels.
The scores of bracketed text passages in TTIP documents made available by Greenpeace are noticeable immediately. Everything in brackets represents either an EU or a US position, not a mutually agreed position. The texts are so-called consolidated chapters, designed to be a basis for further negotiation.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, EU chief negotiator, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, made it very clear that the passages made public are by no means the outcome of negotiations, but proposals put forward by both sides. Nothing has been agreed, Garcia Bercero said, adding that the consolidated texts are a technical means of approximating positions.
The EU will never agree to many of the issues the US put in brackets, he said, adding that the really touchy matters won't be on the agenda until the very end of the talks. Nothing has been agreed until all questions are solved, Bercero emphasized.
Still worth continuing?
Greenpeace claims the US is putting pressure on the EU for approval of hormone-treated meat and genetically modified food. Beef is in fact one of the most difficult sticking points, according to Garcia Bercero, which is why negotiations on the issue haven't yet begun. The EU will never give in to Washington's demands, he added.
The various positions in the documents come as no surprise to Bernd Lange, an EU lawmaker who monitors the TTIP talks on behalf of the European Parliament. The US hasn't budged in three years of talks, he told DW. "At some point you have to ask, is it still worth it?" If the Americans won't move, we must have the courage to say that we simply can't do it, he said.
The leaked documents also show that problems concerning EU market access in the US are a stumbling block. The EU negotiator has confirmed the contents of the documents and pointed out that the entire Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership depends on agreement in this area. It's not clear whether the negotiations will be concluded by the end of US President Barack Obama's term, which ends on January 20, 2017. Garcia Bercero "We're not pressed for time."
The German Industry Association (BDI), a group with a vested interest in a comprehensive free trade deal with the US, says in order for TTIP to succeed, you need high standards and transparent investment protection with a mechanism that allows for appeals. "It's a good thing that the EU Commission, the German government and the European Parliament have pledged not to open up our high protective standards."
The publication of the secret documents is a "service to democracy" said Sven Giegold, a Green Party financial expert in the European Parliament. He said he was allowed to read the documents in a reading room set up for that purpose in parliament, but he wasn't allowed to speak about it. "The reporters removed the muzzles forced on us in the reading room," he said, adding that many citizens are fed up with the wheeling and dealing in back rooms. "You need a minimum of transparency," Giegold said.
The EU has pointed out that Brussels always makes public its positions on its website, but that the US demanded secrecy concerning Washington's positions and insisted on brackets in the consolidated versions.
Where is the leak?
What are the consequences of the leak? Clearly, there will be an investigation into who could have possibly passed on the documents, Ignacio Garcia Bercero said. Only the negotiating delegation, a few select officials and a small group of lawmakers from the 28 EU member states, the European Parliament and the US Congress had access to the papers.
Just a few days ago in New York, the EU and the US concluded the last round of TTIP talks without any major breakthrough. "There's a great deal of trust between the delegations and the mood is good, too," the EU chief negotiator said, declining to speculate on what the leaks might set off. "Of course, everyone tries to push through their own interests."