Madrid, 24 June 2015 – In a letter to European Commission Vice-President Timmermans as part of an ongoing dialogue, Access Info Europe has called for action to improve EU transparency in law and in practice. The pro-transparency organisation stressed the urgent need to bring the EU’s access to documents rules into line with international standards, and raised concerns about problems accessing key documents, as observed in responses to requests submitted on the AsktheEU.org platform.
Access Info’s analysis of the EU’s access to documents Regulation 1049/2001 using the RTI Rating, found that although it scores a solid 96 out of 150, there are some areas in which it falls seriously below international standards and should be a priority for reform:
» Include a public interest test to cover all of the exceptions, thus ensuring that information that is in the public interest is always disclosed,
» Extend the right of access to documents to all requesters irrespective of nationality and residence,
» Broaden the definition of what may be requested to information instead of having a narrow focus on documents, and
» Appoint information officers in each EU body.
Access Info Europe called for the Commission to make explain how it plans to proceed with reforms to Regulation 1049/2001, given that the much-criticised 2008 reform proposal stalled upon becoming deadlocked in the Council in 2012. Access Info Europe has previously criticised the Commission’s proposal as a step backwards and led a campaign supported by over 200 CSOs for improvements.
In the letter to Timmermans, Access Info Europe also highlighted a series of problems with implementation of the right of access to documents, identified by ongoing monitoring of the AsktheEU.org platform, which makes all requests and responses public. These include:
Abusing the privacy exception to evade scrutiny of public officials – The privacy exception is the third most frequently invoked exception used by the European Commission when denying requests, and the numbers reveal that its use is increasing. The Commission in 2014 denied Access Info a breakdown of Commissioners expenses on official travel and hospitality on grounds of privacy. This contrasts with, for example, new EU rules on farm subsidies that require transparency about all recipients of subsidies over €1,250, a substantially lower threshold.
Over-application of the international relations exceptions – Civil society has raised concerns about the way in which the international relations exception is applied to matters of high public interest. There is still controversy around the lack of openness of trade negotiations with the United States (known as the TTIP negotiations), where a culture of secretive diplomacy rather than of democratic transparency persists. The Ombudsman has recommended greater proactive disclosure of TTIP negotiation documents.
Lack of record-keeping of meetings – Access Info recommended that Commission put forward minimum standards as to which information should form part of EU institutions’ record-keeping obligations. The organisation has noted that some decisions of high public interest are taken during meetings of which no records are kept.
Secrecy of Trialogues – Currently trialogue negotiations are not regulated in any way, meaning that it is difficult for citizens to follow specific legislative processes as meetings tend to be ad-hoc and informal. Access Info recommends that calendars and agendas of trialogue meetings be made public in advance, including information about the expected participants; and that minutes should be taken and published proactively.
To read the European Commission’s 27 July 2015 response, see: Response in PDF
The full analysis of Regulation 1049/2001 via the RTI Rating may be found here: http://www.rti-rating.org/international-institutions
For more information, please contact:
Helen Darbishire | Access Info Europe
Pam Bartlett Quintanilla | Access Info Europe