Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CONCORD meets the European Parliament's new Trade Committee Chairman

For a long time CONCORD wished to meet with the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade (INTA). This wish has only come true this month with the invitation from its new chairman, Mr Helmuth Markov. Mr Markov is a member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left and is well known in the Parliament and beyond for his thorough work in the Trade Committee. On Monday 16 April, a delegation from the CONCORD Secretariat and member organisation CIDSE introduced to him the work of CONCORD in the area of European trade policy. During the one-hour meeting, they discussed CONCORD's background, the nature and scope of its membership, its work and what relation the latter has to the European Parliament's Trade Committee.

The discussion was very broad and informal. CONCORD emphasised the reforms it had undertaken to ensure greater transparency and legitimacy, as well as the breadth of its membership and the importance of national platforms within it. It argued that developing a fairer trade policy required mobilisation and debate at the national level as well as at EU level. In that respect, it underlined the role that INTA committee members could play in engaging with their national counterparts and linking the EU trade policy debate to the local concerns of their constituents.

CONCORD also highlighted the necessity for European lawmakers to engage more systematically with civil society representatives from the South, particularly those from countries that are in the process of forging freetrade deals with the European Union, such as the ACP countries. It was argued that this kind of direct engagement can be extremely beneficial and can help inform European thinking with the experience of those who tackle the consequences of flawed trade policies on a daily basis. It was emphasised that CONCORD members work with many organisations in the South and can therefore help facilitate such a relationship.

Finally, the delegation argued for initiating a regular, structured dialogue between CONCORD and the INTA Committee, emulating similar dialogues that have been very successful with the European Parliament's Development Committee. Indeed while, as a community, the European development NGOs in Brussels remain candid interlocutors of the European institutions, such dialogues help demystify preconceptions on both sides, thereby promoting a healthier and more constructive European trade policy debate.

Mr Markov took an active part in this discussion and was responsive to many of the issues raised by the CONCORD delegation. He acknowledged both the importance of making a more direct engagement with the South possible on key trade issues, and the potential merits of a structured dialogue with development NGOs, though he cautioned that this would have to be a gradual process, as trade traditionally was, and remained, a rather rigid policy area. Mr Markov said he was looking forward to seeing the INTA Committee developing a more open and confident working relationship with civil society on key development matters, something which CONCORD will do its very best to ensure.

Hadelin Feront – Policy and advocacy officer with CIDSE:

Source: CONCORD Flash - April 2007.

See also Euforic dossier on EU trade.