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TTIP: Trade agreements must not undermine EU data protection laws, say Civil Liberties MEPs

31-03-2015

The European Commission should incorporate, as a key priority, an unambiguous horizontal self-standing provision in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), that "fully exempts the existing and future EU legal framework on the protection of personal data from the agreement", says the Civil Liberties Committee in its TTIP opinion adopted on Tuesday.

The negotiators should also keep in mind that Parliament's consent to the final TTIP agreement could be endangered as long as the blanket mass surveillance activities are not completely abandoned and an adequate solution is found for the data privacy rights of EU citizens.

The Civil Liberties Committee text, which addresses several fundamental rights concerns, will now be send to the International Trade Committee, who will vote on the recommendations to the Commission on the TTIP negotiations in early May.

"The most important decision of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on TTIP is that the agreement needs to foresee a horizontal exception for EU data protection law", said Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens/EFA, DE), Vice-Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee and rapporteur on the TTIP opinion.

Ongoing negotiations on international trade agreements, such as TTIP and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), also touch upon international data flows, while excluding privacy and data protection entirely, which will be discussed in parallel track within the framework of the US-EU Safe Harbor and the data protection "umbrella agreement".

Civil Liberties MEPs call on the Commission to incorporate, as a key priority, "a comprehensive and unambiguous horizontal self-standing provision based on Article XIV of the GATS [general exceptions] that fully exempts the existing and future EU legal framework on the protection of personal data from the agreement, without any condition that it must be consistent with other parts of the TTIP". MEPs also reiterate the need for transparency and accountability in the TTIP negotiations throughout the entire process.

The Commission should ensure a satisfactory conclusion of the Safe Harbor and the data protection "umbrella agreement" negotiations, MEPs say, to guarantee adequate high data protection standards.

Ending blanket mass surveillance and finding a solution on judicial redress

The negotiators should keep in mind that that the consent of the European Parliament to the final TTIP agreement "could be endangered as long as the blanket mass surveillance activities are not completely abandoned and an adequate solution is found for the data privacy rights of EU citizens, including administrative and judicial redress", MEPs say, in line with Parliament's resolution on the surveillance programmes adopted on 12 March 2014 (press release).

On the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) issue, the committee says that those provisions should not prevent equal access to justice and undermine democracy. The Commission should ensure that decisions on legal conflicts about fundamental rights "are only made by competent ordinary courts".

Data transfers

The Commission must ensure that personal data can be transferred outside the Union only if the provisions on third-country transfers in EU data protection laws are respected. It should negotiate "only on provisions which touch upon the flow of personal data provided that the full application of EU data protection rules is guaranteed and respected", MEPs stress.

E-commerce

MEPs want the Commission to guarantee that the draft chapter on e-commerce proposed by US negotiators in the 7th TTIP negotiation round "will not be accepted as a base for negotiations, should it contain similar conditions to the US draft chapter on e-commerce in the TiSA negotiations". According to MEPs, the draft US text on e-commerce in the TiSA agreement "would undermine EU rules and safeguards for the transfer of personal data to third countries", asking therefore the Commission to oppose to it with regard to personal data.

A legally binding and suspensive human rights clause...

The Commission should ensure that the TTIP agreement guarantees full respect for EU fundamental rights standards through "the inclusion of a legally binding and suspensive human rights clause" as a standard part of EU trade agreements with third countries.

...and a clause on corruption, tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering

MEPs also want the Commission to include a clause on corruption, tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in the TTIP agreement, in order to establish enhanced cooperation between EU member states and the US on these matters.

Result of the vote: 41 in favour, 10 against and 2 abstentions

In the chair: Claude Moraes (S&D, UK)

European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2014 on the US NSA surveillance programme, surveillance bodies in various Member States and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs Press release - US NSA: stop mass surveillance now or face consequences, MEPs say (12.03.2014) Press release - Civil Liberties MEPs visiting Washington press for equal rights for effective judicial redress for EU and US persons in data transfer cases (25.03.2015)