Today, 14 April, the European Parliament adopted (1) the Trade Secrets Directive. This Directive, which is supposed to protect companies against industrial espionage, was drafted with a complete lack of transparency by the European Commission, upon the request of a few French and American multinational corporations, and with considerable help from them (2). It introduces a new concept, trade secret, which is defined in such broad terms that any internal company information could potentially be included. Moreover, it allows companies to sue all those who may reveal trade secrets, be they journalists, trade union members, whistleblowers or employees using information they acquired at their place of work. The exceptions supposedly introduced in order to protect freedoms are grossly insufficient: their implementation into national law will vary depending upon the Member States, and it will fall upon judges to strike a balance between the need to protect these freedoms, on the one hand, and the defence of economic interests, on the other. The burden of proof is reversed: companies will only need to prove that they did not authorise the acquisition, use or publication of a trade secret, whereas citizens will need to prove before the judge that they acted in a manner that was compatible with one of the exceptions provided for. The very prospect of a lawsuit will constitute permanent intimidation for all potential investigators or whistleblowers, let alone the daily consequences on employee mobility and the potential for access to public interest information concerning the toxicity of products available on the market.
In the course of two weeks, though, a European coalition of 54 NGOs and trade unions and 270 000 citizens had signed a petition (3) calling on MEPs to reject this Directive.
In the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, and on the eve of Antoine Detour and Edouard Perrin’s trial in Luxembourg, the European Union ought to have adopted an act which protected whistleblowers and enforced transparency for multinational corporations. On the contrary, with this Directive, the European Parliament is recklessly creating a new right to secrecy for these corporations, and weakening counterweights to their power.
Evidently MEPs did not understand the stakes or the danger of the proposal before them. The vote took place extremely quickly, the day after a debate which only lasted for one hour in an almost empty Chamber. This calls into question the democratic functioning of the European Union and its institutions’ capacity to defend the public good. Today is a sad day for what could still be expected from European democracy. European citizens must urgently take back the power that is being confiscated from them. We can wager that if these European institutions do not defend them, they will soon reclaim this prerogative. This vote is a step back for our freedoms, but our struggle does not end here. We shall continue to campaign against this Directive at all levels. Within the context of its implementation by Member States, and in that of European case-law. What the European institutions have done, they can undo, and as the saying goes: ‘only fools don’t change their minds.’
Martin Pigeon, Corporate Europe Observatory, 00 32 484 67 19 09
Sophie Binet, UGICT – CGT – Assistant Secretary General, 06 86 87 68 45
List of Members of the European Coalition
Anticor, Association Européenne pour la Défense des droits de l’Homme, ATTAC Spain, ATTAC France, Asociación Libre de Abogadas y Abogados, Centre national de coopération au développement CNCD-11.11.11, Correctiv.org, Germany, BUKO Pharma-Kampagne, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, CFDT Journalistes, CGT Ingénieurs, Cadres et Techniciens (UGICT-CGT), Collectif Europe et Médicament, Collectif de journalistes “Informer n’est pas un délit”, Comité de soutien à Antoine Deltour, Commons Network, Corporate Europe Observatory, Courage Foundation, Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB, Confédération des Syndicats allemands), Ecologistas en Acción, EcoNexus, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), European Public Health Alliance, Fédération Syndicale Unitaire (FSU), Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, Force Ouvrière-Cadres, Genewatch, GMWatch, Health Action International, Health and Trade Network, Inf’OGM, Institut Veblen, International Society of Drug Bulletins, La Quadrature du Net, Les économistes atterrés, Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, Observatoire Citoyen pour la Transparence Financière Internationale (OCTFI), OGM Dangers, Peuples Solidaires, Nordic Cochrane Centre, Pesticides Action Network Europe (PAN-Europe), Plateforme Paradis Fiscaux et Judiciaires, Public Concern At Work, Solidaires, SumOfUs, Syndicat des Avocats de France (SAF), Syndicat National des Chercheurs Scientifiques (SNCS – FSU), Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ), Syndicat National des Journalistes CGT (SNJ-CGT), Syndicat des journalistes CFDT, Syndicat de la Magistrature, Tax Justice Network, Transparency International France, WeMove.eu, Whistleblower-Netzwerk e.V., Germany, Xnet
- This is how the parties voted: left (GUE-NGL) Against, Greens Against, Socialists For (except perhaps a few brave Members), Liberals (ALDE/ADLE) divided, conservatives (EPP) For, Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, mainly British Conservatives) For except a few exceptions, ‘Europe of freedom and direct democracy’ Group (EFDD – Italian Cinque Stelle movement and British Eurosceptics) Against, and ‘Europe of Nations and Freedoms’ Group (French Front National and its allies) For.