EU Court judgment on ACTA secrecy is a disservice to democracy

The General Court of the European Court of Justice gave a judgment in Case T‑301/10, In ‘t Veld against European Commission about transparency of ACTA documents, 19 March 2013.

The Court upholds the secrecy in general, and only finds regarding a few documents that the secrecy was wrong.

The Court considers “that public participation in the procedure relating to the negotiation and the conclusion of an international agreement is necessarily restricted.” (paragraph 120)

The Court agrees with the Commission that secrecy is necessary: “As the Commission emphasises, establishing and protecting a sphere of mutual trust in the context of international relations is a very delicate exercise.” (paragraph 126)

The Court overlooks many examples of international organisations where negotiations take place with much more openness and input from civil society.

The Court disregards that multinationals do have access to negotiation texts.

The Court disregards that meaningful debates in parliaments are impossible this way.

The Court disregards that scrutiny gives a higher quality.

In paragraph 181 the Court considers “Moreover, and quite incidentally, it should be noted that the conduct of negotiations for the conclusion of an international agreement falls, in principle, within the domain of the executive (in ‘t Veld v Council, paragraph 120 above, paragraph 88) and that those negotiations do not in any way prejudice the public debate that may develop once the international agreement is signed, in the context of the ratification procedure.”

Trade agreements have many chapters and may have a total of a 1000 pages, are presented as deals that will make us all richer. The pressure to say yes is enormous.

With this judgment, the Court disregards article 1 Treaty on European Union (TEU): “(…) This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.”

The Court disregards the right of everyone “to take part freely in an active and informed way, and without discrimination, in any important decision-making process that may have an impact on his or her way of life and on his or her rights under article 15, paragraph 1 (a)”. (ECOSOC, 2009)

We live in a union with a democratic deficit. Rigorous openness would help. The Court says no to that.

The Court’s judgment is a disservice to democracy.

ECOSOC (2009), UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General comment No. 21, Right of everyone to take part in cultural life (art. 15, para. 1 (a), of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), E/C.12/GC/21,