Last window of hope for EU transparency talks still open:
Danish Presidency urged to broker agreement
Brussels/Madrid, 16 June 2012 – With inside EU sources indicating that the Council and the European Parliament are still ready to make a deal on limited but essential reforms to EU access to documents rules, NGO Access Info Europe today called on the Danish Presidency to make an urgent last minute push to reach an agreement.
Access Info Europe understands that the Council of the EU could be ready to agree with the European Parliament on a limited package of reforms, thereby ensuring that the EU’s access to documents rules are in line with the EU treaties post Lisbon.
Although the Parliament has been holding out for broader strengthening of the access to documents regulation (Regulation 1049) it now seems that they could be ready to secure the more limited changes. Access Info Europe is supportive of a narrower set of reforms, arguing that some positive changes would be a significant victory at this stage, providing that the reform package rejects the expansion of the exceptions whithe Commission has been pushing for since 2008.
NGOs this week wrote a strong letter to the Commission raising concerns on what seemed like attempts to sabotage the debate around the reform of Regulation 1049 and reiterating the call on the Commission not to block the changes which are required by the EU treaties.
The changes which have to be made, in Access Info Europe’s analysis, are:
» Extending the institutional scope of the Regulation to all EU bodies;
» Ensuring proactive legislative transparency as required by the TFEU;
» Aligning Regulation 1049 with the Aarhus Convention on environmental information;
» Balancing access to documents with personal privacy as both are rights now.
More details on the reform can be found on the Access Info Europe website
“Access Info Europe welcomes the readiness of the Council to reach an agreement and calls on the Danish Presidency to make the most of this last minute opportunity,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
Darbishire praised the role of key MEPs such as Michael Cashman, Anneli Jäätteenmäki, and key members of the Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee, stating that “The EP has been steadfast in defence of transparency. The EP would have liked more progressive reforms, as would civil society, but at this juncture the bringing Regulation 1049 into line with the right to documents established by Lisbon would be an important achievement.”
The changes which are required by the TFEU post-Lisbon are:
» Extending the Institutional Scope of the Regulation – the TFEU requires extending Regulation 1049 to include all offices, bodies and agencies of the European Union, and also the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank when exercising their administrative tasks.
» Ensuring proactive legislative transparency – The current version of Regulation 1049/2001 should be amended to incorporate specific provisions which would ensure transparency of the legislative process. These include appointing information officers, and proactively publishing documents which form the basis of legislative acts and other acts of general application, including preparatory documents, legal advice, impact assessments and documents submitted by third parties with a view to influencing legislation. Financial information should also be made proactively available, as should administrative information on the workflows of each institution, including relevant contact information.
We note that proactive transparency of the documents most relevant to EU citizens would ease the administrative burden of responding to access to documents requests as well as ensuring compliance with the Treaty requirement that “the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.”
» Alignment with the Aarhus Convention – Ensuring that when the information held in requested documents relates to the environment, the exceptions are applied in a way which is consistent with the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
» Balancing access to documents and personal privacy – The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty recognised the right of access to EU documents as a fundamental human right, meaning that it now has to be balanced against the fundamental right to privacy. The formulation of the exception in the revised Regulation 1049 should require that a balance be struck on a case-by-case basis, weighing up the public interest in disclosure of personal data.