Ombudsman: European Commission secrecy around Transatlantic Business Dialogue is "maladministration"

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"(Amsterdam, July 4 2002) European Ombudsman Jacob Söderman last week condemned the European Commission's secrecy around the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The Commission has for over two years refused the Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) access to key documents on the Commission's involvement in the business dialogue. In a 'draft recommendation' dated June 27, the Ombudsman
concludes that the refusal is "maladministration" and calls the Commission to give CEO access to the requested documents.

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". Due to far-reaching support from the European Commission and the US government, the industry body routinely succeeds in weakening or postponing new consumer and environment protection measures. The Ombudsman's call to end the Commission's secrecy is a significant victory for civil society which for several year has campaigned against the TABD's privileged political power and the lack of transparency.

The Commission denied CEO access to the documents claiming to protect "international relations" and arguing that there is "no real public interest in disclosure". The Ombudsman in his recommendation concludes 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."

For more information, contact Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe

Observatory: tel/fax +31 20 6127023, email:

Notes for the editor:

1: Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is a research and campaigning group targeting the threats to democracy, equity, social justice and the environment posed by the economic and political power of corporations and their lobby groups.

2: The 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.

3: TABD conferences are attended by high-level delegations from the European Commission and the US government. 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". For background information on the TABD, see for instance the CEO briefing "TABD in Troubled Water": Corporate Europe

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