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Total Black Out: Brussels Accused of Cover-up Over Tobacco Lobby Dealings

The European Commission is accused of a widespread cover-up after refusing to release the full details of dealings between its officials and the tobacco industry during negotiations for the highly controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty.

Following a freedom of information (FOI) request by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the European Commission released an almost completely redacted letter that it received from British American Tobacco regarding their recent correspondence.

The 14-page document was almost completely redacted, with almost all of the content, including names of officials and lobbyists, dates of the meetings and even the issues discussed blacked out.
Less than 5 percent of the text was visible, which included merely a few standard introductory and closing remarks.

The documents were in relation to discussions about the proposed TTIP trade deal being negotiated between the US and EU, as well as separate negotiations between EU and Japanese officials.

Fears Over ISDS

TTIP negotiations have been dogged by a severe lack of transparency of behalf of government officials involved in the talks, with the almost completely blacked out letter increasing fears that such a trade deal will include provisions for tobacco companies to sue governments if they attempt to tighten smoking legislation.

The investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process is currently being used by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is undertaking legal action against Australia after the government introduced plain cigarette packaging, while the same company is also suing Uruguay for $25 million over its attempts to increase health warnings of the packaging of tobacco products.

CEO has denounced the release of the letter, backing its call for a full disclosure of negotiations between European officials and tobacco lobby groups.

The group says that full disclosure of the documents is necessary in order to “enable the public to scrutinize the nature of the relations between DG Trade [Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission] and the tobacco industry” and “to enable the public to assess the extent to which the EU-Japan FTA (and TTIP) poses a risk to tobacco control policies.”

In response, Catherine Day, Secretary-General of the European Commission, dismissed arguments that the transparency of negotiations was in the public interest, saying that it: “does neither outweigh the public interest in protecting the Commission’s international relations and decision-making process, nor the commercial interests of the companies in question.”

Day added that the documents could not be released in their entirety because they “contain elements that relate to the Commission’s negotiating position with regards to tobacco in the ongoing bilateral negotiations for a free trade agreement with the USA and Japan.”

Opposition to TTIP Grows

Following the FOI request, a number of politicians and campaign groups have heaped more pressure on EU governments to come clean on the highly secretive TTIP negotiations, while CEO officials say they are in the process of appealing against the redacted documents.

“CEO is deeply concerned about the Commission’s secrecy around its relations with tobacco industry lobbyists and more widely the secrecy around its international trade negotiations. We are therefore preparing a complaint to the European Ombudsman.”

The proposed TTIP trade deal, currently being negotiated by US and European Union member states, has attracted widespread public criticism in Europe for the lack of transparency associated with negotiations.

There are fears that the deal will result in a reduction of health and safety standards in Europe, and will favor large US multinational corporations, which critics say could kill off many European small businesses.

On top of widespread public demonstrations against TTIP, 2.5 million people have signed a petition against the treaty, with critics arguing that EU officials are determined to ram through the deal despite the wishes of the European public.

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