Throughout its history, the European Union (EU) has repeatedly highlighted its dedication to the promotion of democratic principles, human rights and good governance in its external relations. Supporting developing countries has always been a core aspect of European values. In order to effectively pursue these objectives, the Common Commercial Policy (article 207 TFEU) was established to “make trade work in a way that helps human rights” through a ‘stick and carrots’ approach, where trade or commercial benefits are made conditional upon compliance with certain rules, including human rights norms.

The European Scheme of Preferences (GSP), a scheme based on this approach, was created with the idea of granting developing countries tariff advantages, provided that they ratify and effectively implement human rights, labour law and core environmental principles. GSP includes three different programmes. One of them, the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (GSP+), particularly focuses on the ratification and implementation of 27 core conventions and offers further economic benefits. Eight developing countries currently benefits from this special arrangement.

To monitor beneficiaries’ compliance with GSP+’s strict criteria, the European Commission uses two inter-related tools: the ‘scorecards’ and the ‘GSP+ dialogue’. The scorecard is a list of the shortcomings identified by the Commission, international monitoring bodies, and/or civil society relating to each convention. GSP+’ beneficiaries receive their respective scorecard and are asked to address each point listed. The second tool, the ‘GSP+ dialogue’ includes the GSP+ monitoring missions and a series of discussions between the beneficiaries and the Commission.

The lack of transparency in the Commission’s work has been called into question on several occasions. Indeed, so far, the scorecards are being kept confidential although they represent one of the main tools in the monitoring process. The European Parliament’s resolution of 14 March 2019 on the implementation of the GSP Regulation has stressed this need to greater transparency in GSP+ monitoring, “notably around the scorecard exercise”. Requests for more transparency came after concerns were raised regarding the effective implementation of the 27 core conventions by certain beneficiary countries, therefore questioning the continued inclusion of these countries in the GSP+ scheme.

The Commission has repeatedly expressed its refusal and unwillingness to publicly disclose its scorecards to external bodies, including to relevant stakeholders, making it impossible to challenge the Commission’s monitoring process or its assessments for eligibility. When asked about the rationale behind this confidentiality policy, the Commission stated that it “considers that the list of issues sent to beneficiary countries should be confidential. This is crucial for fostering trust and contributing to the efficiency of the monitoring, thus allowing for open discussions on sensitive issues”. It stipulates that transparency is ensured through other means, including the GSP+ implementation report and the Commission Staff Working Documents, which are publicly available.

The GSP Regulation sets very clear criteria as to how, when, and under which conditions a developing country can benefit from trade preferences. The Commission has been untrusted with the monitoring of these criteria, but it does not have the authority to select the criteria that ought to be taken into consideration and which to leave out. At the very least, it should be absolutely transparent about its criteria. In that regard, the Commission fails in its duty of transparency.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have questioned this non-respect of criteria many times, and the Commission has always provided quite elusive answers. In many cases, the Commission recognises the violation of certain articles of core conventions and adds that it is monitoring the issue. However, no further information has been provided regarding the way the issues are being monitored. Furthermore, the Commission does not specify whether it has set a concrete time frame or benchmarks for the effective implementation of the violated core conventions. Even worse, the Commission seems to remain inactive even when the violations are reported on year after year with little, or no, meaningful progress being made.

One of the most recent example was pointed out in a parliamentary question by MEP Agnieseka Kozłowska-Rajewicz when she highlighted the increase of cases of honour killings in Pakistan despite the reform of legislation on honour killing in 2016. This has “creat[ed] doubts as to whether Pakistan is able to effectively implement laws and conventions it has ratified”. In light of this lack of progress, the MEP asked the Commission whether Pakistan “will face any legal consequences for these failures” and “which red line would have to be crossed in order for the Commission to consider withdrawing GSP+ preferences”.

To that Ms. Malmström, on behalf of the Commission, responded that “GSP+ process has contributed to substantive process at the legislative level on the issue, with the adoption of the federal anti-honour killings law in 2016”. In her answer, the Commissioner failed to address the possible legal sanctions that Pakistan could face, such as restrictions on preferential treatment, as is provided in the GSP Regulation. This suggests that Pakistan does not run any risk of facing any kind of sanction, even though no improvement have been made regarding the effective implementation of its laws.

Regarding the question on the possible ‘red lines’ that must be crossed for a withdrawal procedure to be launched, the Commissioners, once again, did not provide clear answer. She stated: “The goal of the GSP+ monitoring process is to ensure that beneficiary countries continue to make meaningful progress in the implementation of their obligations. The withdrawal of tariff preferences is a measure of last resort”. While the Commissioner recognised that no meaningful progress has been made in over three years (since the adoption of the honour killing legislation in 2016), she refused to set ‘red lines’ or benchmarks that, if exceeded, will trigger the measure of last resort, namely, the temporary withdrawal procedure.

GSP, and in particular GSP+ has a set of stringent criteria. It offers very generous trade preferences under the agreement of core conventions being effectively implemented in return. The ‘stick and carrots’ approach can only work if both conditions are fulfilled. Additionally, EU taxpayers’ funds are used to support this development program. Transparency at all levels of the monitoring process is therefore required, especially when criticism over respect of the criteria is growing. The EU committed to abide by the principle of transparency as much as possible, so why does the Commission, and more specifically DG Trade keep ignoring this call for greater transparency?

Hidden political agendas and economic strategy should never be put before European values and citizens’ trust.

Source : https://eptoday.com/eu-opaque-on-transparency-of-the-gsps-monitoring/