WWF to sue EU over secretive trade policy

This could be an inter­est­ing, qua­si-con­sti­tu­tion­al, chal­lenge for the EU. bq. The World Wide Fund (WWF) has tak­en the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters to the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice over alle­ga­tions that its influ­en­tial 133 Com­mit­tee on exter­nal trade has wrong­ly with­held doc­u­ments request­ed by the organ­i­sa­tion (“Euractiv”:http://www.euractiv.com/cgi-bin/cgint.exe/1981116–499?204&OIDN=1507967&-tt=td) The 113 Com­mit­tee takes its name from a clause in the basic treaty that cre­at­ed the EC (the 1957 Treaty of Rome). The WWF press release on the chal­lenge is “here”:http://www.panda.org/news_facts/newsroom/news.cfm?uNewsId=13950&uLangId=1 Of course it’s amus­ing to see one of the EU’s much-cul­ti­vat­ed anti-trade NGO’s take it to court. But there is a seri­ous issue here. Gov­ern­ments won’t make trade pol­i­cy in pub­lic because most of the mech­a­nisms of trade pol­i­cy (tar­iffs, quo­tas, licens­es and even mea­sures to pro­tect stan­dards) are dis­trib­u­tive. That is, they tax some per­son or group and apply the proceeds—often minus a share for the government—to a sub­sidy for some oth­er per­son or group. It’s not dif­fi­cult to under­stand why gov­ern­ments don’t want to do this under the pub­lic gaze, even if they believe that the re-dis­tri­b­u­tion is need­ed to serve some wor­thy ‘high­er’ pur­pose such as income equi­ty, indus­tri­al devel­op­ment, or their own re-elec­tion. The dis­trib­u­tive impact of trade poli­cies is an issue whether pro­tec­tion is being wound up or down. Lib­er­al­iza­tion means tak­ing an advan­tage away from a per­son or group that may be polit­i­cal­ly well-con­nect­ed (that’s how they won the advan­tage in the first place) and return­ing the ben­e­fits to a usu­al­ly silent major­i­ty of con­sumers. So there’s noth­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly nocive about the secre­cy of the 113 Com­mit­tee. Although it’s the Coun­cil of Ministers—that is, mem­ber states—who are the defen­dants in this suit, the EU Com­mis­sion will be the ones squirm­ing most. The dif­fi­cul­ty for the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is that the pow­er to make exter­nal trade pol­i­cy is one of their most basic con­sti­tu­tion­al remits from mem­ber states. They don’t want to do it in pub­lic any more than their mem­ber states do. On the oth­er hand, they are even more con­cerned than mem­ber states—who have sov­er­eign, not del­e­gat­ed powers—to secure a ‘demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy’ for their cen­trist role: going over the heads of mem­ber state gov­ern­ments to pop­u­lar groups like WWF and oth­er NGOs where it’s pos­si­ble. They are like­ly to be torn in two direc­tions by this chal­lenge. No doubt, the Com­mis­sion will con­sid­er that this is a good oppor­tu­ni­ty for the EC Court of Jus­tice to ‘shut up’.

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