Letter by Dutch NGOs to EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy regarding GATS request lists

6th June 2002

Dear Sir,

Ninety-three European NGOs, amongst whom several were Dutch, have written you an open letter on 7th May with a request to institute a transparent process concerning the GATS negotiations. Several European Parliamentarians have equally been requesting more transparency regarding the preparation of the request lists in the GATS negotiations. Parliamentarians and citizens are stakeholders in the EUís internal reflection and preparation phase and have a right to accountability before decisions are taken. We disapprove of the different levels of information sharing and consultation between members of parliament and European business with whom the EC has privileged consultation methods (consultations and website input which started years ago, closed meetings, correspondence asking for comments on draft request lists which others cannot see, etc.).

We regret that we have not received an answer yet to our open letter of 7th May. Instead of responding with more transparency, the Commission now prohibits new draft request lists to circulate among the different Ministries in the EU member states. Worse, it allows for an unacceptable short time for Ministries and member states, including members of parliament, to provide input. This method prohibits policy coherence as it hinders people with interests in development and environment from within and outside Ministries to comment on the new request lists to developing countries. This lack of consultation procedures prevents any decent input to achieve balanced requests to developing countries which will lead to sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Many services, and especially basic social services, are very important for the development of the economies and societies, especially in developing countries. The argument that liberalization is needed because foreign companies will invest additional finances for instance to improve water or energy distribution can be answered with examples to the contrary whereby no new money was invested or prices went up leaving the poor with no access or more poverty. Concerns about basic services are particularly relevant because leaked draft requests revealed the ECís intentions to push for GATS commitments from other countries in sectors such as water delivery, energy and postal. At the time of preparing the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), many sectors have to be dealt with from the perspective of their contribution to protection of the environment or social development.

We urgently request the European Commission:

∑        to change its current consultation process and deadlines with member states in order to allow ministries, parliaments and citizens within member states to make comments on request lists or any other negotiation positwions and to ensure that development and environmental protection feature centrally in these negotiation positions. This means extending deadlines and adapting decision-making accordingly at EU and WTO level. Extra time is also critical in order to allow developing countries the opportunity to assess the likely impact of the ECís requests before they respond with offers;

∑        to immediately institute a transparent process concerning the GATS negotiations by making available to national parliaments and the public in the EU as well as to the European Parliament, details of the requests that have been made to the EC by other WTO members in the current phase of negotiations. This must then be followed by publication of all request proposals sent by the EU to other WTO members as well as full transparency and real consultation in the ECís offer-making process and other negotiation positions. No closed consultation should take place with business such as the European Services Forum;

∑        to undertake, in cooperation with civil society, a full evaluation and impact assessment of the consequences of the current or proposed GATS obligations before proceeding with further GATS commitments, including before making requests to developing countries. This should take into account that the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights gives the responsibility to states to provide and improve basic social services and to institute the necessary regulation - other than from a trade perspective -to that extent. It should also take into account that international rules on services liberalization are not being accompanied by international strengthening of labour rights.

Sir, the Dutch elections have shown a complete public disapproval with politics behind closed doors. The central message from the people was: listen to citizens. The problems related to privatization and liberalization of the Dutch basic services were one of the themes debated during election time. Ignoring the input from parliamentarians is a flagrant blow to democracy. We do not want parliaments and the public to be confronted with a ďfait accompliĒ. The current undemocratic EU decision-making process calls for a moratorium on the GATS negotiations. The request phase is not only about an offensive policy to protect European business interests but also about the concerns of citizens around the world.

We hope to receive quick answer to our letter and a positive response to our requests.

Yours faithfully,

M. Vander Stichele,

SOMO (Foundation for Research on Multinational Corporations)

for the following organizations based in The Netherlands: Both ENDS, Bureau Ver(?)antwoord, FNV-Kiem (Dutch trade union for cultural industries), GATSwatch, International Restructuring Education Network Europe (IRENE),†Lou Keune, University of Tilburg (KUB), Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth, The Netherlands), NOVIB (OXFAM, The Netherlands), Margalit Laufer, Open Poort, ransnational Institute (TNI), Marjan Stoffers, WEMOS, Werkgroep Globalisering Delft - Den Haag, Womenís International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), The Netherlands, X MIN Y Solidarity Fund††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

From Third World Economics No. 282 (1-15 June 2002)