* Activists challenge secretive EU trade negotiations
* EU withheld details of export plans shared with industry
* Law suit intensifies pressure for EU transparency
* Commission says needs to protect foreign relations
By Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck
BRUSSELS, Feb 15 Transparency campaigners have
hauled the European Union's executive to court for withholding
documents about free trade talks with India, intensifying
pressure on the bloc to make its policy-making less secretive.
The lawsuit, lodged with the EU's second-highest court on
Tuesday, accuses the EU Commission of breaking transparency and
democracy rules by refusing to disclose to campaigners details
of plans shared with EU industry on how to open Indian markets.
"Industry lobbies enjoy massively privileged access and
influence in trade negotiations, even when there are concerns
from other quarters that this is threatening Indian labour
rights and access to medicines," said Pia Eberhardt, campaigner
for Corporate Europe Observatory, which lodged the complaint.
Campaigners are focusing on India because the EU is expected
to complete a free trade agreement with the rapidly developing
nation this year following almost four years of negotiations.
The case, lodged in the European General Court, concerns the
Commission's refusal over 18 months to give campaigners full
access to email exchanges and notes from meetings with EU
governments and business groups about how to export more pork,
poultry, medical equipment and car tyres to India.
FACTBOX on India's retail sector [ID:nSGE69S0B7]
The Commission deleted key passages from the notes before
giving them to the Observatory, citing rules to protect
international relations, according to documents obtained by
"If the Commission has already shared information with the
business world at large, the same information cannot suddenly
become confidential when a public interest group asks for it,"
The claim says the Commission sent full notes to lobby
groups including BusinessEurope, the EU's largest employers'
In a handwritten note also submitted in the claim and seen
by Reuters, former EU trade chief Peter Mandelson invited
BusinessEurope to share sensitive information with India's
largest business group -- a move the challenge says voids
EU institutions are under increasing pressure to lift the
veil of secrecy shrouding much of its decision-making.
More than 240 campaigners and journalists this month asked
the European Parliament to act against a Commission plan to
tighten access to information laws, and civil rights groups have
sued twice over secrecy in the drafting of EU transparency law.
Environmental groups took the Commission to court last year
for withholding details about the potentially harmful impact of
biofuels on the environment. [ID:nLDE68G1RC]
An internal EU watchdog lambasted the executive for
withholding related letters by carmaker Porsche (PSHG_p.DE) to a
former EU industry chief. [ID:nLDE6280OS]
EU-India trade negotiations have prompted protests in India,
the EU and Kenya amid concerns a pact will limit India's
production of cheap generic HIV and anti-malaria drugs, sold
widely across Africa and South America. [ID:nLDE6B91N9]
They have also triggered fears that opening India's retail
sector to supermarket chains such as Carrefour (CARR.PA), Tesco
(TSCO.L) and Metro (MEOG.DE) will lead to unemployment among the
country's vast ranks of street vendors and small shopkeepers.
The Commission has cited the protection of international
relations in its refusal to reveal details of meetings between
EU officials and representatives of European pharmaceuticals
companies including Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) and GlaxoSmithKline
(GSK.L), the Observatory said.
(Reporting by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck; additional
reporting by Eva Dou, editing by Rex Merrifield/Maria Golovnina)