Isn’t the EU’s trade policy conducted secretly?

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Many of those critical of the EU, or the way its trade policy is conducted specifically, point to the lack of transparency of trade deals. They are supposedly kept locked away without any chance for public debate, and even voted on without there being proper public scrutiny. However, the Commission has done much to address these concerns lately, and has gone even further with initiatives announced in 2017, meaning that while the entire contents of the negotiations aren’t broadcast, the key documents are published as soon as they can be.

The Commission proposals for trade negotiations are now automatically published as of 2017 (most recently with Australia and New Zealand) as well as the accompanying negotiation directives. The Council doesn’t then have to publish the directives they adopt (the responsibility of the member state governments), but the Commission has recommended it, and they have recently done so with the publication of the Japan-EU negotiation directives.

An Advisory Group on EU trade agreements is also to be created, where NGOs, trade unions, consumer groups and more can inform the Commission about their views on the trade agreements and various improvements that could be made, as well as providing expertise towards the negotiations the EU conducts. This is in addition to the regular meetings the negotiators hold with civil society as well as with citizens through Citizens Dialogues.

These measures are in addition to others that the Commission already introduced before which include:

  • Publishing the full text of the agreement before it’s even been legally scrubbed, so there is plenty of time for the public to see the contents before it is voted on (EU-Vietnam trade deal).
  • Reports on each round of the negotiations with each partner, showing what was agreed and what still needs to be worked on (for example, on a China-EU investment agreement).
  • A lot of Commission proposals for chapters are published on the Commission’s trade website.


The criticism that the EU’s trade policy isn’t transparent just doesn’t hold water anymore. Proposals for chapters, round reports and the original proposal for negotiating directives are all made public before or during the course of negotiations. Discussions are held both with civil society and citizens during the course of negotiations, and before the final votes. Finally, the full text is published as soon as possible after negotiations are closed, before the European Parliament, Council or any other body have to vote on it. All these initiatives contribute significantly to a more transparent trade policy.

A factsheet on the EU’s transparency policy in trade negotiations can be found here.