The mosaic of interlocking political, economic and civil society groups at multiple levels — local, national, regional and continental — makes decision-making within the European Union extremely complex. That means the European Parliament’s decision whether or not to ratify TAFTA/TTIP at the end of the negotiations is subject to a vast array of contrasting forces and opinions, which can lead to the outcome of that final vote shifting dramatically in a very short space of time, as the ACTA saga demonstrated so clearly.
The European Parliament’s committees play a key role in determining policy, and one of the most important — for civil liberties — has just formally adopted an “opinion” on TAFTA/TTIP that will feed into the final position of European politicians. It re-iterates many of the points the committee made last year, and places great emphasis on protecting the personal data of Europeans:
The European Commission should incorporate in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as a key priority, an unambiguous horizontal self-standing provision that “fully exempts the existing and future EU legal framework on the protection of personal data from the agreement”, says the Civil Liberties Committee in its TTIP opinion adopted on Tuesday.
That “horizontal provision” basically means across the entire agreement, and not just in certain chapters. To achieve that, the Civil Liberties MEPs call on the Commission:
to incorporate, as a key priority, “a comprehensive and unambiguous horizontal self-standing provision based on Article XIV of the GATS [general exceptions] that fully exempts the existing and future EU legal framework on the protection of personal data from the agreement, without any condition that it must be consistent with other parts of the TTIP”.
Subject to the requirement that such measures are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where like conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on trade in services, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any Member of measures:
(c) necessary to secure compliance with laws or regulations which are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement including those relating to:
(ii) the protection of the privacy of individuals in relation to the processing and dissemination of personal data and the protection of confidentiality of individual records and accounts;
Ongoing negotiations on international trade agreements, such as TTIP and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), also touch upon international data flows, while excluding privacy and data protection entirely, which will be discussed in parallel track within the framework of the US-EU Safe Harbor and the data protection “umbrella agreement”.
Safe Harbor, as we’ve noted, is major point of contention between the US and EU. Another, of course, is the mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, and the Civil Liberties Committee is not shy about mentioning that, too:
The negotiators should keep in mind that that the consent of the European Parliament to the final TTIP agreement “could be endangered as long as the blanket mass surveillance activities are not completely abandoned and an adequate solution is found for the data privacy rights of EU citizens, including administrative and judicial redress”, MEPs say
This is only one committee, albeit a key one. But at the very least it gives an indication of some of the serious issues that will be raised if and when it comes to a vote on ratifying TAFTA/TTIP — and of the difficulty of gaining enough support among MEPs to do so.