On 5 July, the European Services Forum issued a press release in which it 'warmly welcomed' the European Union's GATS requests.
According to the ESF press release: "The European service industries have actively participated in the open consultation undertaken by the Commission and the Member States and will continue to follow closely the services negotiations. Mr. Buxton said that he welcomed the open process by which the Commission gave an opportunity to all stakeholders to express their views."
Mr. Buxton (the ESF chairman) has good reasons to "welcome the open process". The ESF has indeed very "actively participated in the open consultation undertaken by the Commission and the Member States." But one should note that 'open' does not equal 'transparent'.
"In order to prepare for the GATS negotiations, the Commission has conducted broad consultations in an attempt to ensure a balanced input into its preparations for the negotiations. With respect to the GATS negotiations, the Commission services have hosted a series of specific meetings with civil society, the last one on 7 May 2002. All groups with an interest in GATS negotiations are welcome to attend these events."
As evidenced by some Commission papers that were obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) through invoking the right to access to European Commission documents (EC 1049/2001), the European Commission (DG Trade) has systematically solicited the European Services Forum to provide input for the EU GATS requests. It has also on several occasions given detailed information to the ESF on the state of the GATS negotiations and the EU's internal preparations of the EU GATS requests, which are now being kept secret to civil society at large.
Instead of open and broad consultations, the doors of the European Commission and the EU Member States have been standing wide 'open' for the European Services Forum. But the existence of such a privileged consultation process with the services industry, taking place in parallel to the public 'civil society dialogues', has been downplayed and denied by EC and government officials, and even parliaments have not been properly informed.
Although the European Commission has provided Corporate Europe Observatory with some documents relating to the contacts between the Commission and the ESF, CEO has been recently denied access to a large number of relevant Commission documents. Corporate Europe Observatory has appealed this decision and is now awaiting an answer from the EC Secretary General.Services are key to our societies and the way in which they are provided is of critical importance to everyone. It is therefore highly unacceptable that the EU, in secret, is framing its GATS negotiation goals and strategy in close consultation with business. The privileged working relation between the European Commission and the private sector should be immediately ended and there should be full transparency on all past relations between the European Commission and the European Services Forum.
For background info on the European Services Forum, please refer to the GATSwatch briefing paper "Behind GATS 2000: Corporate Power at Work".