HomeMarketsCETA. Foodwatch's complaint to the European Ombudsman

CETA. Foodwatch's complaint to the European Ombudsman

The negotiations of the agreement between the Union and Canada continue within the CETA committees. In which the standards of the foods that arrive on our tables are decided behind closed doors. At risk are the rules established in Europe to protect human health and the environment.

The complaint

Foodwatch - non-profit organization that fights for safe, healthy and accessible food for all - after having undertaken a long correspondence with the European Commission / DG Trade, submitted his formal complaint to the European Ombudsman on 30.11.21. The aspects on which he asks theEuropean Ombudsman There are two in particular to express themselves: the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the democratic deficit in the decisions taken by the CETA committees.

European citizens they should have their right to know what the Commission and Canada are deciding on, on fundamental issues such as food standards. The opacity of the work carried out in the committees, on the other hand, undermines the confidence of civil society, preventing the development of a healthy - and very necessary - public debate on these issues.

In the words of the Commission, 'Lack of transparency undermines the legitimacy of EU trade policy and public trust. (...) Transparency should apply at all stages of the negotiating cycle from the setting of objectives to the negotiations themselves and during the post-negotiation phase. ' (1). Yet decisions are taken in secret, without public debate and without any democratic control by European or national parliaments.

CETA, from 2017 to today

The trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (CETA, Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement), is applied in Europe on a provisional basis starting from 21.09.2017. The Treaty will definitively enter into force only with ratification by all EU Member States, as it has been classified as a 'mixed' treaty, that is, it involves matters of shared competence between the EU and the Member States. (2)

While EU and Canada signed the agreement on 30 October 2016, not all member states have ratified it. Italy started the process in 2017 (3), with the approval of a bill which was then withdrawn. Since then, there have been no further attempts at ratification. (4)

Provisional application involves the exclusion from the application of some parts of the agreement (5), such as:

- investment protection,

- access to the investment market for portfolio investments,

- the controversial judicial system for investment protection, the functioning of which has meanwhile been defined (6),

- an article on 'camcording'(criminal protection of intellectual property rights).

Nevertheless, the remaining parts are to be considered fully binding, at least until at least one Member State decides to notify the Commission of its refusal to ratify the Treaty. Particularly critical is the position of Cyprus, which on 31.7.2021 decided not to ratify the agreement to protect its traditional products, and in particular the famous Halloumi cheese (7).

1. Lack of transparency

By ratifying the CETA, Europe and national parliaments give the executive carte blanche on the content of the agreement itself. Indeed, since the CETA agreement is not concluded, the negotiations go on in the meetings of the committees, whose decisions can develop, implement or amend in its entirety the agreement and its annexes. In some sections there is even a blank space, to be filled later by the committees themselves. Among other things, this is the case of Section B of theAnnex 5-E, concerning phytosanitary measures.

The Committees they can recognize the standards for sanitary and phytosanitary measures, in which case these cannot then be changed unless a different agreement is reached with Canada. Any unilateral changes could result in sanctions by the CETA Dispute Settlement Panel, and constitute a violation of international law.

In the Committees Matters of deep public interest, such as pesticide protection standards, genetic engineering standards and food controls, are negotiated. Their decisions can therefore lower the level of European public health controls.

The precautionary principle

In discussion it is also the application of the precautionary principle. Exemplary is the ongoing battle over pesticides (8). For Canada it is essential to lower European standards on maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides, as Canadian agricultural exports - which are worth more than € 1,88 billion per year - are severely affected. With the well-founded risk of compromising the quality of food consumed in Europe.

Yet it is impossible receive detailed information on CETA developments. Some documents (such as the agenda and a short summary of the meeting) are available online (9), but they are superficial and not sufficient considering the importance of the topics touched upon. The notes of briefing, e-mail, internal correspondence and that with stakeholder - documents which clearly must exist, as well as the minutes of the various committees and the documents and presentations discussed in the meetings - have not been made accessible.

Il CETA Joint Committee he even decided that no detailed reports could be taken during the meetings. This is particularly serious, considering the legislative value de facto of the decisions taken.

2. Democratic deficit

The European Parliament he cannot express an opinion on the decisions taken by the Committees and is only an observer. As far as is known, Members of the European Parliament do not even have access to detailed information from the CETA committees. Nor is there any mechanism of parliamentary or public accountability of the CETA committees for their decisions.

Having downplayed the role of Parliament is a sign of a serious democratic deficit that undermines the balance of power between the European institutions. Parliament should instead be substantially involved in the implementation of CETA, so as to give democratic recognition to the agreement reached.

Foodwatch requests

Foodwatch calls on the Commission to act by introducing:

1. Detailed reports to be provided after each meeting, with a list of those present at each meeting and the decisions taken. Presentations and other documentation key to understanding the discussion should also be provided. Along with correspondence Email, internal and external, and ai briefing positions.

2. A list of available documentation - immediately accessible or on request - so as to provide a complete picture of what is being discussed, the positions and decisions taken.

3. The institutionalization of Parliament's involvement European in the decisions of the CETA committees. Parliament's agreement should be mandatory, so that important decisions cannot be taken behind closed doors.

The previous

THEEuropean Ombudsman has already expressed its opinion in 2015 on the transparency and accessibility of negotiations relating to bilateral agreements, in particular those relating to TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) (10). In deciding this case, the European Ombudsman affirmed some fundamental principles in relation to access to documents and the duty to guarantee the transparency and democracy of the negotiations.

They are first of all rejected the theses of those who would like to keep the documents secret, as:

- There is no public interest, as far as international relations are concerned, in complying with unreasonable requests not to disclose documents by third States. Otherwise, the businesses international would have an unconditional veto on the disclosure of any document held by the EU institutions.

- The arguments that, given the complexity of the issues involved in TTIP, greater transparency could lead to confusion and misunderstanding among citizens are 'deeply wrong'. 'The only effective way to avoid public confusion and misunderstanding is greater transparency and a greater proactive effort to inform public debate. '

Certainly, the Commission may deny access to certain documents, at least during certain stages of the negotiation process, in order to be able to negotiate the agreement effectively in the interest of the Union and its citizens. Anyway, any di no-disclosure must be adequately justified, and any exception to the fundamental right of public access to documents must be interpreted strictly. With particular attention to the time period during which access is denied.

If he chooses to decline public access to TTIP documents, the Commission has to present specific arguments based on the content of the documents and the context of the negotiations. If the disclosure of a document, in a particularly delicate moment of the negotiations, is such as to damage legitimate interests, access to that document can be validly denied in that time period.

The Mediator, furthermore, 'recognizes the special democratic responsibility of MEPs to oversee the negotiations on behalf of their constituents'and identifies the following conduct that the Commission should comply with:

- provide the necessary explanations when issuing the document, if they believe that this could be misinterpreted by the public. It should also engage with those who express legitimate concerns.

- Evaluate whether a TTIP document can be made public as soon as the document in question has been finalized internally and, subsequently, at regular and predetermined intervals.

- If no exceptional restrictions apply, the document in question should be proactively published by the Commission.

- If the document cannot be proactively made public, the document reference (and, if possible, its title) should be made public.

- An explanation of why the document cannot be made available must be presented with the reference to this document.

- Meeting agendas and reports of meetings held on TTIP with commercial organizations, lobby groups or NGOs should be proactively published

Provisional conclusions

The CETA agreement can open the doors to GMOs and cloning, synthetic hormones and veterinary drugs banned in Europe, beef from cattle fed with animal meal (11)

To the European Ombudsmanonce again, the task of directing the Commission to ensure minimum guarantees of transparency and democracy. In a European system that seems to have lost sight of the protection of its citizens.

Giulia Torre

Cover image taken from Trade Justice Network (Canada), http://tradejustice.ca/ceta/


(1) European Commission. 2015. Trade for All - Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy (europa.eu). https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2015/october/tradoc_153846.pdf 

(2) The Council adopted a position which classified CETA as having mixed competence of the EU and the Member States in February 2014; the Foreign Affairs Council reached the same conclusions on 13 May 2016. The Commission therefore decided to propose CETA as a mixed agreement.

(3) Dario Dongo. CETA, the Italian government approves the ratification. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/ceta-il-governo-italiano-approva-la-ratifica/

(4) The Bill 'Ratification and execution of the following Agreements: a) Strategic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, on the one hand, and Canada, on the other, done in Brussels on 30 October 2016; b) Comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada, on the one hand, and the European Union and its Member States, on the other, with Annexes, done in Brussels on 30 October 2016, and related common interpretative instrument', was withdrawn on 21 June 2018. https://www.senato.it/leg/18/BGT/Schede/Ddliter/49239.htm 

(5) Notice concerning the provisional application of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one party, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other party. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:22017X0916(02)&rid=1 

(6) It is news of January 29, 2021. The legitimacy ofInvestment Court System, through which private individuals will be able to challenge the rules in force in the EU and claim compensation for damages for the obstacle to their business, was recognized by the EU Court of Justice on 30.4.19 with Opinion 1/17. https://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=2240&title=The-EU-and-Canada-adopt-rules-putting-in-place-the-CETA-investment-court

See Dario Dongo, Sabrina Bergamini. CETA, green light from the Court of Justice to the 'rule-breaker' at the service of the 'Corporation'.  GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). two. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/ceta-via-libera-della-corte-di-giustizia-al-trita-norme-a-servizio-delle-corporation/ 

(7) See the answer given by Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, on behalf of the European Commission, to the parliamentary inquiry E-004489/2020 presented by Emmanuel Maurel (GUE / NGL) https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-004489-ASW_EN.html. The Cypriot government has stated that, before attempting to ratify the agreement again, it will attempt to negotiate some exceptions for the protection of Halloumi.

(8) Dario Dongo, Marta Singed. CETA, Canada announces battle with Europe over pesticides and GMOs. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). two. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/ceta-il-canada-annuncia-battaglia-alleuropa-su-pesticidi-e-ogm/ 

(8) Decision in case OI / 10/2014 / RA - Transparency of the negotiations relating to the Trans-Atlantic Partnership on Trade and Investment (TTIP) Decision in case OI / 10/2014 / RA. Open Mttipart on Tuesday 29 July 2014, decision of 6 January 2015. https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/it/decision/it/58668 

(9) See Dario Dongo. Beef with hormones from Canada to the EU. CETA, what guarantees?. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/carni-bovine-con-ormoni-dal-canada-allue-ceta-quali-garanzie/ e Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. CETA, Canadian meat from cattle fed with animal meal. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/ceta-carne-canadese-da-bovini-nutriti-con-farine-animali/ 

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