Thursday 2 October 2014

On really responsive rule-making? The EU-US transatlantic trade and partnership (TTIP) negotiations

Dr.Elaine Fahey, Senior Lecturer, The City Law School, City University London

The script
The EU and US have now completed 6 rounds of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP), the trade agreement under negotiation between the EU and US to cut trade barriers and ‘behind the borders’ barriers (technical regulations, standards, approvals) in a wide variety of sectors. It is touted as having the potential to become the global trade standard. Already, the epitaph is alleged to have been written on the Agreement. Yet while this misses the mark as to the theatre of global rule-making, on the other hand, skepticism is not unwarranted. It has at times appeared as an extraordinary experiment in rule-making.[1]  TTIP harbours ambitions to grow as a living regulatory entity. It has become rife with controversy, for its secrecy, for its possible inclusion of the Investor Settlement Dispute Mechanism (ISDM) and its impact on EU regulatory standards. Some have even tried to stop the negotiations using EU law itself, in the form of a failed European Citizens Initiative.

The history of transatlantic relations is littered with many failed attempts to integrate EU and US legal order through mutual recognition, even in very limited fields. TTIP had been poised to shake up this dynamic. It has become an exercise in ‘really responsive rule-making’. However, many questions remain about international negotiations and the standard of what is and should be ‘really responsive EU rule-making’:- I reflect on its script, production process and the cast of actors.

The production process
Most EU-US rule-making processes in the past has been conducted firmly behind closed doors, in inscrutable so-called ‘Dialogues’, in a range of fields that many will never have heard of. They traditionally privileged industry. The TTIP negotiations have marked an enormous shift in EU-US rule-making.

The TTIP negotiations have been ostensibly very open as a process. There is a lively EU TTIP twitter account (@EU_TTIP), RSS feeds, video-streamed meetings, broad public consultations and prolific document dissemination- more ‘quantitatively’ than its harshest critics might care to admit. In fact, the EU often has appeared as a transparency ‘manna’ in contrast to the tight-fisted US provision of information, even tweeting about its own transparency or pictures of public consultations and meetings. However, the TTIP negotiation mandate and draft text have long been leaked alongside the official channels of information, posted in reputable German broadsheets like Die Zeit, as well as dedicated leaking forums:  This leaking has threatened to take the wind out of EU openness sails.

The Ombudsman late into the negotiations recently raised questions as to the true place of openness in the negotiations and launched a public consultation. Her actions appear inadequately searching, and even late in the game. A range of key CJEU decisions on transparency in 2014 (in’t Veld, Mastercard etc; see the previous blog posts on those cases here and here) have not done enough to dent the exception surrounding international relations as regards access to information. In fact, the leaking of the EU-Canada free trade agreement (CETA) in August this year by the German broadcaster ARD demonstrates the truly dented credibility of the state of openness, international negotiations and the EU.

The cast of actors

The response by the Commission to steep and sharp public scrutiny of TTIP have been to set up more civil society dialogue engagement points (eg civil society advisory bodies) and more floods of consultations. These processes have delivered only partially-scrutable results. For example, it received nearly 150,000 for the ISDM, over half which will we never know about. The involvement of civil society in the TTIP negotiations has arguably become quite unwieldy.

The responses of the would-be incumbent trade Commissioner Malmstrom to the ISDM saga have provoked scorn for her breath-taking flip-flopping on its inclusion or exclusion from TTIP. The ‘flexibility’ about the normative agenda through ‘really responsive rule-making’ is a serious concern.

There is still much scope for more truly responsive rule-making, for example, a more vibrant institutional dialogue and for parliamentary participation, at both national and EU level. The powers of the European Parliament to approve any agreement reached have been raised as both a shield and a sword to any would-be critics of its credentials as a rule-making project. Many explore its potential within a living regulatory entity.[2] However, the vastness of the rule-making exercise may warrant a pause for thought on this. For the newly elected Parliament to make an impact on the negotiations, it must surmount a significant information gap and grasp the mantle of data. The place of data transfer within TTIP has had endless twists and turns- first the NSA affair, then the Google decision, then the decision by Microsoft to shift cloud computing and comply with EU law. Yet it risks being swallowed up within the broad swathe of TTIP. The TTIP negotiators face the question of how to be really responsive to this- and whether the European Parliament and Congress- neither a homogenous entity- will accept it all.

A battle is often bitter because the stakes are so small. EU-US trade relations have never been more liberalized or responsive to each other. It colours the context of what the stakes actually are. How ‘really responsive’ the negotiations can and should be has some legal and political distance to travel.

Editor's note: This blog post was previously published on the eutopia blog; thanks for permitting it to be reblogged here.
Barnard & Peers: chapter 3, chapter 24


[1]See E. Fahey & M. Bartl ‘A Postnational Marketplace: Negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)’ in E. Fahey & D. Curtin (Eds.), A Transatlantic Community of Law: Legal Perspectives on the Relationship between the EU and US legal orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
[2] Parker, Richard W. and Alemanno, Alberto, Towards Effective Regulatory Cooperation Under TTIP: A Comparative Overview of the EU and US Legislative and Regulatory Systems (May 15, 2014). European Commission, Brussels, May 2014. Available at SSRN:

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