The European Commission fears Europe's relative economic weakness and division caused by the upcoming European Parliament elections could spark an ACTA-style popular rejection of a trade agreement with the US, according to a leaked internal EU document.
The document obtained by the EU-critical Danish publication Notat reveals that the Commission held a secret meeting on Friday (22 November) with representatives of the 28 EU member states.
During the meeting, the Commission said that the EU needed a "radically different" communication strategy on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) compared to what has been done for past trade initiatives.
"The aim is to define, at this early stage in the negotiations, the terms of the debate by communicating positively about what the TTIP is about (i.e. economic gains and global leadership on trade issues), rather than being drawn reactively into defensive communication about what TTIP is not about (e.g. not about negotiating data privacy, not about lowering EU regulatory standards etc.)," the document reads.
According to the document, the Commission told member states that the fears over the trade negotiations were linked to the perception that the EU was not in a "sufficiently strong position" to engage with the US.
"Some of this also stems from the fact that the EU is currently in a weaker economic position than the US and that therefore we need TTIP more than they do," the document reads.
"We need to make clear that this is not the case, that despite the crisis the EU remains the world's largest market and is as such an indispensable partner for any trading economy (i.e. both sides have major economic interests in these negotiations)."
Health campaigners and consumer groups have previously raised concern that the free-trade deal could weaken health, banking, data protection and food safety regulations through the back door, comparing the situation to ACTA, the anti-piracy treaty which was ultimately rejected by the European Parliament.
In the document, the Commission tells member states that it has produced focused material on specific issues which member states can use for communication on TTIP such as a detailed rebuttal document on why the agreement is not like ACTA.
The Commission emphasised that it was vital that the EU spoke with one voice, underlining in this context the importance of the upcoming European Parliament election campaign, which could provide a sounding board for parties rejecting the EU-US trade agreement.
"It seems clear that given the salience of the negotiation, political groups in several member states will position themselves around different aspects of the negotiations," the Commission said in the document.
An EU source told EURACTIV that the Commission during the meeting presented its new website on TTIP and that its primary purpose was to inform smaller member states on how to communicate the trade negotiations to citizens.
EURACTIV sought a comment by the Commission, but the EU's executive was unavailable for a comment.