Statewatch Criticizes EC Position on Access

10 March 2011

The European Commission’s recent indication that in March it will propose a limited amendment to the European Union’s regulation on public access to EU documents has drawn sharp criticism from a leading watchdog group.

The Commission’s latest Work Programme for 2011 (Ref. No. 2011/SG/006, Page 33) includes the additional goal of:

“Incorporate in regulation 1049/2002 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents the changes brought about by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (Article 15(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) extending the regulation scope to all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union.”

Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, posted a lengthy response, calling the Commission’s proposal inadequate.

The Commission’s plan, he wrote, would not fulfill all of the Treaty of Lisbon’s provisions. Properly implementing the treaty, Bunyan wrote, would require the deletion of Article 4.3 of Regulation 1049/2001, which is designed to protect the institution’s decision-making process by limiting access to documents “containing opinions for internal use as part of deliberations and preliminary consultations.”

Bunyan explained:

This “exception” is used to refuse access to documents because “disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process”. The Council routinely uses this power to deny access to documents “under discussion” which are part of the legislative process. It is unthinkable at the national level that documents and records of legislative discussions would be kept secret from the public – yet this is how the Council has operated for years under Article 4.3.

Article 4.3 seriously undermines the democratic process.

Impasse With Parliament

Bunyan also described the circumstances that have resulted in inaction on Regulation 1049/2002. European groups this year called on Parliament to amend Commission proposals. Since a previous report, some 150 organisations and 109 individuals have signed the letter.

A parliamentary committee is scheduled to hold a hearing April 13.

Looking ahead, Bunyan stated:

The Commission, by presenting a new, very limited proposal in March, is seeking to put an end to the impasse. The Council has shown no enthusiasm at all to discuss the issue because the majority of Member States are happy with how the current Regulation is working. This leaves the European Parliament with a number of choices:

1)    it could agree the new Commission proposal, hopefully by seeking to amend it by repealing Article 4.3;
2) it could agree a position but again refuse to adopt a 1st reading position on the Commissions new proposal;
3) it could abandon it long-held, detailed amendments, position by dropping the 27 amendments the Council objects to in order to re-start the legislative process – to do so would be a massive climb down, conceding victory to the co-legislator, the Council.

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