Access Info’s Litigation at the European Union
Access Info Europe v. Council of the European Union, Hellenic Republic and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – T-233/2009
The EU is reforming its rules on access to documents and Access Info wanted to know what position each government was taking on the reform. We asked the Council of the EU on 3 December 2008, and it responded on 17 December. The Council granted Access Info partial access to the documents requested: we were provided with the summary of the discussions but without the names of the countries which had been for or against any particular amendment.
This means that although it was possible to become acquainted with the various arguments put forward in the course of the negotiations, it is impossible to attribute these to any single Member State. This prevents the European public from holding their governments, and the European Union itself, to account. It also means that citizens are unable to exert any influence over the decision-making process.
Ruling from General Court of the European Court of Justice, 22 March 2011
The General Court of the European Union found on 22 March 2011 that the Council of the EU wrongly refused to disclose the identity of countries taking positions on reform of the EU’s access to documents rules.
Ruling on an application brought by Access Info Europe, the Court found that the Council had “in no way demonstrated” how publication of the country names would “seriously undermine its decision-making process”.
The Court stated that “If citizens are to be able to exercise their democratic rights, they must be in a position to follow in detail the decision-making process” and that they should “have access to all relevant information.”
Appeal by the Council of the General Court’s Pro-transparency Ruling
The Council of the European Union decided to challenge the pro-transparency decision of the General Court of the European Union in August 2011. The Council has been backed from the beginning by Greece and the UK, but now the Czech Republic and Spain have joined in the appeal, also on the Council’s behalf.
In the case of Access Info Europe v Council of the European Union (Case T-233/09, now known as Case C-280/09 P ), the General Court concluded that the Council’s practice of releasing documents on legislative negotiations only after blanking out the names of the countries making proposals was illegitimate.
The Council, however, is questioning the General Court’s reasoning and is seeking to ensure that such information on future legislation remains secret. Given that 50% of national legislation originates from the European Union, Access Info is concerned that a reversal of this ruling will permit greater «policy laundering» by EU Member States.
There is good news though however! The European Parliament has recognised the importance of this case for the future of transparency in the EU and has joined the case on behalf of Access Info Europe.
Following the initial exchange of arguments between the parties, the oral hearing of this case has now been scheduled to take place at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on 21 February 2013 at 9:30AM.
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To offer your services as a kindly probono lawyer, please email helen @ access-info.org