A number of documents exchanged between the European Commission and British American Tobacco were released on 25 August. They were not about the negotiations with the United States. Instead, they contained commercially sensitive information related to issues of alleged discrimination in Japan. Those documents were published following an access-to-documents request, the EU’s equivalent of a freedom of information request. The parts containing commercially sensitive information were blacked out as required by the applicable EU rules.
The vast majority of requests for documents are granted. In 2014, out of 5,630 requests, only 668 (12% of the cases) were denied access, while full access was given to 72% of the cases and partial access was granted to 15% of the cases.
Many EU firms, ranging from food producers and car manufacturers to high-tech firms and makers of medical devices, ask for meetings with the Commission. Anyone – an individual, an NGO or a company – wanting to share their concerns can request such a meeting. That might be about a wide range of issues, including discrimination by a non-EU country, unfair treatment or violation of international law.
They are entitled to expect that information they divulge during a meeting remains confidential. This is not only a legal requirement, it is common sense: companies will not come forward with concerns if they think their business could be damaged by the release of documents that could help competitors or anger foreign governments.
The Commission is proud of its open door policy. It is our job to listen to everyone, be it companies or NGOs or trade unions. If they have a case, it is our obligation to protect them against unfair treatment outside the EU. An atmosphere of confidence where employers and the public can speak to us frankly about their problems and experiences is a fundamental part of this.
The EU-US trade talks are the most open bilateral negotiations ever where we publish almost all the proposals and legal texts we have submitted to the US side. Tobacco is not the topic of any particular discussion, only as one out of thousands of goods where we have import tariffs in place today.
The European Commission’s Spokesperson said on 27 August 2015:
“This document has absolutely nothing to do with TTIP. Commissioner Malmström has explained many times that she takes transparency very seriously and she has put in place a structure and a process that is indeed the most transparent we ever had.”
Full document request: http://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/contacts_with_the_tobacco_indust
Decision to release the document: http://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/1842/response/7684/attach/html/7/HOEDEMAN%202015%201635%20EN.pdf.html
Further information on TTIP