PARIS (Reuters) - France called on Monday for the European Commission to make public its mandate to negotiate EU-U.S. free-trade talks, citing what it said was an atmosphere of mistrust over efforts to forge a landmark pact.
The U.S. and EU launched the negotiations earlier this month despite European concerns about U.S. spying that had threatened to delay the start after nearly two years of preparation. France moreover only agreed to the talks after securing assurances that its entertainment industry would be ringfenced.
“The first week of discussions on a transatlantic partnership agreement closed in a climate of doubt,” Trade Minister Nicole Bricq wrote in French newspaper Liberation.
“The U.S. once again showed its splendid ambivalence. It is a country where everything seems possible and whose dynamism and energy we French envy. At the same time it is a prickly power incapable of resisting the temptations its supremacy gives it.”
Stressing the need for transparency in the talks, Bricq said she had asked EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht to break with usual procedure and make the EU’s negotiation mandate public.
“It doesn’t contain any secrets. It’s a political statement that calls for an agreement that respects our values and interests. It deserves to be debated,” she said.
The Commission said it would gladly publish the mandate, but noted any such decision could only be taken by the EU Council - the body composed of the EU’s 28 member states.
“It is a legal decision to be made by France along with all other member states as this is a Council document,” Commission spokesman for trade policy John Clancy said by email.
The Commission’s mandates to negotiate international trade deals are not made public because it could weaken the EU’s hand by revealing its limits to Washington and U.S. lobbies. That said, unofficial leaks of the mandate are common.
“If the talks with United States are for a partnership, and if we are working as equals, then our practices need to change so that we speak the same language,” she said.
Bricq also said the Commission should regularly inform the European Parliament of the progress of the talks. At present, the Commission must do so at the end of each round.
Clancy said the Commission was committed to keeping public, governments and the EU parliament up to date about the talks.
The first round of talks, which took place in Washington from July 8 to July 12, mainly set the stage for more substantive negotiations in the weeks and months ahead as the two sides strive to reach a deal by late 2014.
Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by Mark John