As you might know, TTIP is negotiated in secret. This is somewhat irritating, but there may be valid reasons (speaking as a citizen of one of the negotiators) to attempt secrecy during the negotiations.

What I don't get is how anyone can expect the document to remain secret, when it is in effect a contract between sovereign nations. There is a plethora of parliaments and judicial bodies that have to ratify and implement the treaty. How should they do it, without knowing its contents?

Also, how should someone enforce a secret part of a treaty? I assume the document is rather complex and smart lawyers could probably try to hide some vicious stuff in it, but it is not a law per se, so it has to be translated into several different languages before it can take effect. Anything hidden would probably be found in that process or get lost in translation.

So what is the point of keeping the documents secret, once the negotiating parties have reached a certain level of agreement? Isn't it just postponing the inevitable?

  • Classified is a thing, and it more or less works. Generally treaties in the US are enforced by laws passed to comply with the treaty, and who's to say where the spark of a law came from? It could be a black section of a treaty a casual conversation or god himself and we would never know. If one of the clauses is about spying it may be unpopular and pretty likely to be secret, and very unlikely the laws/acts enforcing the agreement are ever to see the light of day. If a clause is about stoping the russians/chainese/boogie-man they really don't what that getting out.
    – user9389
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:36
  • Sure, but then the law will be the definite authority and not some secret treaty, right? And since the treaty has to be implemented precisely, the law probably contains the content of the treaty, which makes it public, right?
    – choeger
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:44
  • no. A law will not necessarily contain the treaty or whatever else inspired it, and certainly doesn't have to have the true inspiration. also the effects might not be public laws but secret policies or directives.
    – user9389
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:50
  • So what is the point of keeping the documents secret, once the negotiating parties have reached a certain level of agreement? Isn't it just postponing the inevitable? In a treaty that complex, I would say that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. If the current state is an agreement that hurts Europe clothing industry to the benefit of the American, but hurts USA steel industry to the benefit of Europe, as soon as that becomes public lobbists in both sides will try to sink the teatry.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 19:08
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    @choeger Is there a reason you're assuming that the treaty would remain secret? With TPP, for instance, it was secret until negotiations were complete. It was then made public before legislatures would be expected to ratify it. They never expected it to stay secret, nor did they want it to. It was, however, secret while it could still easily be changed; it was only made public once it was a yes/no question on the treaty as a whole.
    – cpast
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


We must distinguish two types of agreements. Some international agreements can remain secret, if they don't impose rights and obligations on persons. For example, treaty on cooperation of intelligence services. Those treaties, however, cannot be enforced in court (there may be some arbitration or ad hoc tribunal set up, but in all cases, only states can be affected).

If the agreement is to impose rights and obligations on persons other then state bodies, it must be public. No exception. At least in democracies, that is. Because the law, or anything that has the same force as the law, must be public and accessible.

Courts in many countries have ruled so, the European Court of Human Rights (whose decisions are binding for most European countries) expressed this opinion in cases Sunday Times v. the United Kingdom or Lithgow v. the United Kingdom (and many others).

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