AG advises Court to dismiss challenge by Council

Luxembourg/Madrid, 16 May 2013 – In the penultimate stage of Access Info’s court case for full access to a document relating to the reform of the EU’s access to documents rules, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has issued an opinion which advises the Court to dismiss the legal challenge brought by the Council of the EU against the March 2011 decision by the first instance General Court that the Council should provide Access Info Europe with the requested document.

The case goes back to request made by Access Info Europe in December 2008 for a document relating to reform of the EU’s transparency rules (Regulation 1049/2001). The Council of the EU provided Access Info Europe with the document containing Member State proposals for reform, but with the names of the countries deleted, so it was impossible to know who was putting forward which proposal.

Access Info Europe challenged the Council’s decision not to provide the names of the Member States and on 22 March 2011 the General Court ruled in favour of transparency. This was challenged by the Council, joined by the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Spain and the UK; the European Parliament joined Access Info Europe in calling for a fully open legislative procedure. A public hearing was held on 21 February 2013 (report here) and the next stage after the Advocate General’s Opinion is the final decision of the European Court of Justice.

Although not binding on the final decision of the Court, the Advocate General makes compelling arguments in favour of transparency of the legislative process, whilst at the same time rejecting the Council of the EU’s complaints that the General Court incorrectly interpreted EU law in its 2011 ruling.

Advocate General Cruz Villalón notes in the Opinion that the Council’s legislative procedure should be as transparent as similar procedures on the national level, stating that “‘legislating’ is, by definition, a law-making activity that in a democratic society can only occur through the use of a procedure that is public in nature.”

The Advocate General goes on to remark that: “To hide from public view the identity of those making the proposals being discussed during one of the stages in the legislative procedure is to deprive citizens of an item of evidence that is necessary for the effective exercise of a fundamental democratic right, namely the ability effectively to hold politically accountable the participants in the process of shaping the public will into the form of a piece of legislation.”

Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe stated “We have read the opinion with great interest. It is now for the Court of Justice to rule in this case which is fundamentally important for EU citizens and democratic decision making in the EU legislative process.”

Click here to read the full opinion.

For more information, please contact:

Helen Darbishire, Executive Director, Access Info Europe | +34 667 385 619
Pam Bartlett Quintanilla, Researcher & Campaigner, Access Info Europe | +34 699 354 215