Opinion and Comment by the Access Info International Advisory Board

Madrid, 22 October 2013 – After the landmark final ruling last week by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) that completely dismissed the Council of the European Union’s appeal, in a five year battle over making public access to documents containing proposals by Member States during the negotiations on the revision of Regulation 1049/2001, the Advisory Board of Access Info Europe offer their opinions and comments to the importance of this case for the right of access to information in Europe and globally.

Daniel Bezares, Access Info Europe President
“Many of our national laws emanate from decisions negotiated between EU Member States in Brussels. This important ruling from the European Court of Justice gives us the right to know what positions our governments are taking when they negotiate those laws. We hope that this will be of great value to civil society across Europe and Access Info will be monitoring carefully how the Council of the EU implements this ruling.”

David Goldberg, Academic and activist working on issues of freedom of expression and freedom of information
“One of the earliest thinkers on open government, Peter Forsskal, wrote in 1759 that “it is an important right in a free society to be freely allowed to contribute to society’s well-being. However, if that is to occur, it must be possible for society’s state of affairs to become known to everyone”. With its decision in this case, the European Court of Justice has affirmed that this principle is as applicable to the European Union as to any other public authority.”

Gergana Jouleva, Executive Director, Access to Information Programme, Bulgaria
“Access Info Europe’s success is remarkable. The judgment of the Court of Justice in this case is important for advancing the right to official documents of the European Union, and confirms the importance of applying the principles of transparency and balancing the public interest against secrecy. The legislative process has to be transparent, and the decision making process can only be protected if there is a real risk for the interest to be undermined, which in this case there clearly was not. This decision is also important for the struggle by access to information activists at the national level, and for securing transparent and accountable government, and the equal opportunity for all citizens to participate in debates on public policy issues.”

Maeve McDonagh, Professor of Law, University College Cork, Ireland
“This is a very welcome decision in terms of underlining the link between the right of access to documents of the institutions and the democratic nature of those institutions. In particular, it is highly significant in terms of promoting transparency in the EU legislative process. The fact that EU citizens will be able to determine the positions taken by their national delegations in the European legislative process will enhance the legitimacy of that process and more generally promote participation in government by citizens. Overall, the decision adds to the growing recognition of access to information as a basic democratic right.”

Ivan Szekely, Counsellor of Open Society Archives, Hungary
“You cannot expect European citizens to accept EU legislation and comply with its provisions if the EU legislators themselves do not comply with the common European principles of transparency and accountability. You cannot expect national legislators to fully implement these principles either, if they see that the highest bodies of the Union are exempt from implementing the same principles. This decision is a great step towards the unity of the EU, its Member States, and its citizens in this area.”