According to reports in the media, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) parting comments to the delegation leaving for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forum was that observers think that the service trade agreement was negotiated behind closed doors when over the past year, there have been more than 100 meetings with 264 industry representatives from 46 different service industries, whether behind closed doors or at small discussions.
He was also reported as saying that “when talks are ongoing, it is impossible to announce [what is going on] because that would affect the end result. This is the case anywhere in the world; no one will announce the contents of talks before the talks are over; that is impossible.”
Ma’s “anywhere in the world” seems to differ from that of most other people. During the preparations for signing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the EU, European Commission trade officials have had to submit regular reports to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, and they have to accept irregular supervision, inspection and instructions.
The future draft agreement must also be reviewed, amended, and approved or rejected by these institutions.
The same regulations apply on the US side.
Article 218 and paragraph 3 of article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU clearly stipulates that, when it comes to talks and conclusions of international agreements, including the opening of negotiations, ongoing proceedings, the finalization, the signing of the draft, the signing of the final agreement, temporary application, suspension and termination: “The European Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.”
In Germany, the federal Law on Cooperation Between the Federal Government and the German Bundestag in Matters Concerning the EU stipulates that the German government is obligated to immediately answer and submit a report on free-trade agreement talks on the demand or wish of a member of the Bundestag.
The law also states that organizations with a right to obtaining information should include citizen’s groups and regular citizens in order to promote extensive public debate and concern.
Are the differences becoming clear yet?
Even if what Ma says were true and assuming that industry consultations are not unilateral and lacking binding force, the government deliberately avoids supervision by parliament and the public.
The lawyer C.V. Chen (陳長文) said that there is no need for negotiations and the signing to be transparent; so long as the results are transparent, everything is fine.
Yet the government was not even planning on accepting legislative oversight after the agreement was signed.
Georges Clemenceau, French prime minister during the final year of World War I, said that democracy is the art of self-control, and that if you do not control yourself, someone else will.
There is a Bulgarian saying that it is better to go to hell with a smart person than to go to heaven with an idiot.
The government is deliberately distorting democracy, self-righteously spreading false information and constantly walking with idiots. However, the nation is still not gaining entry into heaven.
The cross-strait service trade agreement is indeed a touchstone for Taiwanese democracy.
Lin Chia-ho is an assistant professor at National Chengchi University’s College of Law.
Translated by Perry Svensson