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Press release: 19 March 2021
Environmental and human rights organisations have welcomed today’s European Ombudsman finding of maladministration by the Commission. It found that the Commission failed to complete a timely assessment of the social and environmental impact of the trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.
EU trade negotiations are supposed to be informed by a ‘sustainability impact assessment’, to ensure they are based on evidence and that the resulting agreements respect human rights and high economic, social and environmental standards.
The Ombudsman found that Commission’s failure to complete this assessment before completing negotiations between the EU and Mercosur countries Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay constituted maladministration.
These findings follow an inquiry launched after a formal complaint in 2020 by environmental and human rights organisations ClientEarth, Fern, Veblen Institute, La Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme, and International Federation for Human Rights.
ClientEarth trade expert Amandine Van Den Berghe said:
“With this decision, it’s clear that the Commission attached little consideration to non-economic factors when it negotiated its trade deal with Mercosur countries. But that’s not all.
“Almost two years after the end of the negotiations, we are still waiting for the final report on the sustainability impact assessment, and for the Commission to explain the results.”
Faced with criticism by EU governments over the environmental impact of the deal, and threats that countries will not ratify it, the Commission is currently negotiating an additional instrument to address concerns including climate impacts and deforestation.
“We’re now waiting while the Commission discusses this new instrument behind closed doors, without any opportunity for civil society or the European Parliament to meaningfully engage. This deeply erodes public trust in the process,” Van Den Berghe added.
Since formal negotiations over the EU-Mercosur agreement have concluded, the Ombudsman did not issue any recommendations from the inquiry. They did urge the Commission to ensure the sustainability assessment is finalised before the end of negotiations.
Fern Trade and Forest Campaigner Perrine Fournier said:
“This maladministration is a failure of moral, as well as legal duty. Multiple impact assessments from Member States and civil society have shown that the deal will only increase Europeans’ vast consumption of beef, soy, ethanol and other agricultural goods, intensifying pressure on forests bordering the lands of Indigenous communities.
Whatever additional instruments the Commission and Member States propose, they must be informed by the latest evidence.”
The organisations conclude that it is high time for the EU Commission to learn from past mistakes. If the EU does not change the way it conducts its trade policy, it will be at best paying lip service to its EU Treaty obligations to foster sustainable development.
Sara Lickel, Trade Policy Officer from Veblen Institute, said: “European Treaties provide rules for setting up trade policy and trade agreements: the environmental, social and human rights impacts need to be assessed and those results need to be taken into account before concluding negotiations.”
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.
Fern is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) created in 1995 with the aim of ensuring European policies and actions support forests and people. Our work centres on forests and forest peoples’ rights and the issues that affect them such as aid, consumption, trade, investment and climate change. All of our work is done in close collaboration with social and environmental organisations and movements across the world.
The Veblen Institute for Economic Reforms is a non-profit think tank promoting policies and civil society initiatives for the ecological transition. We believe the current economic model is profoundly unsustainable and should be transformed in the spirit of social justice and respect of planetary boundaries. Our work is supported by private donors, most importantly by the Charles-Leopold Mayer Foundation.