Brussels, 27 September 2013 –The European Central Bank regularly invokes the need to protect monetary policy and the financial stability of the Union and its Member States when refusing access to information a report by Access Info presented in Brussels today has revealed.
Requesters are often seeking information about exchanges with Member States on the financial crisis. One third (36%) of requests resulted in full or partial refusals, with just 32% of requests receiving some or all information sought.
Access Info has called on the ECB to review the legitimacy of its exceptions which are not all in line with the EU’s Access to Documents Regulation 1049/2001.
In total, there were eight successful requests, seven partially successful requests, five cases in which the information requested was not held, and two refusals to provide any information at all as well as one incomplete response and one case of administrative silence. The majority (17 out of 25) of the requests submitted to the ECB were for access to documents that had been exchanged between Member States (in most cases, the national Ministry of Finance) and the European Central Bank.
The report, which was launched at the EU Ombudsman’s celebration of International Right To Know Day 2013, criticises the extra exceptions that the ECB has decided to apply to its documents, and calls for the ECB decision on access to documents to be brought into line with the standards set by Regulation 1049/2001, which applies to the majority of EU institutions.
One of the extra ECB exceptions seeks to protect “the stability of the financial system in the Union or in a Member State” and it was added by the ECB in 2011 as an amendment to its 2004 Decision on public access to ECB documents. It is possible that this exception may have been added in response to the financial crisis and possibly to requests filed with the ECB seeking to find out what it knew in the run up to the grave financial problems in a number of Member States
Access Info is also particularly concerned about the additional exception to protect “the confidentiality of the proceedings of the ECB’s decision-making bodies”. Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, emphasised that “The ECB presumption of “confidentiality” directly contradicts the principle, enshrined in Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union, that ‘every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union.’ The Treaties specifically state that ‘Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen“.
Access Info has called on the ECB to review the inconsistencies of its rules and exceptions in relation to the EU Treaties and to release any documents which have been withheld on the basis of illegitimate exceptions. “It is a serious cause for concern that the ECB has introduced exceptions to what is now recognised by the treaties as a fundamental right without going through the democratic legislative process of the Union,” added Pam Bartlett, Researcher and Campaigner at Access Info Europe.
Recommendations for improvement for the European Central Bank on access to documents
– To take decisions as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen
– To release documents which have been withheld based on illegitimate exceptions
– To review exceptions for consistency with EU Treaties
– To introduce duty to assist requestors and act on it
– To ensure prompt responses and review timeframes