Groups Rally Support for EU Transparency Reforms

9 December 2011

With the European Parliament scheduled to vote Dec. 15 on a package of transparency reforms, three civil society groups are seeking to ensure passage with a letter-writing campaign.

The legislation is expected to pass, but more roadblocks exist.

The largest group of votes in the EU parliament, though not a majority, is that of the European Peoples Party, which is opposing the reforms recently approved by a committee. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)  Still, other parties support the proposals, and passage is predicted.

However, the European Commission strongly opposes the proposed changes and the European process presents a variety additional hurdles. The EPP also is in power in most EU countries and those governments will be negotiating in the European Council with the Parliament.

For more on the situation and detail on the contrasting positions of the committee and the Commission, see an article in Wobbing Europe.

Looking ahead, Wobbing Europe author Staffan Dahllöf reports:

     If the Parliament adopts the Cashman report the upcoming Danish EU-presidency will put the whole issue on the agenda for so called trilogue negotiation between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament in the spring. The danes will do this with a clear aim to reach an agreement before Cyprus takes over in July 2012, this website has learned.
     This adds yet another paradox to the thorny question of access rules:
     Trilogues are negotiations behind close doors. It can be seen as somewhat strange or contradictory to secretly negotiate new rules supposed to promote transparency.

Groups Respond to Opposition

Replying to EPP concerns about the committee proposal, the supporters of the committee report wrote:

During discussions in the LIBE Committee, the EPP withheld support for the report based on concerns over three points:

  • Amendment 30 rejects the Commission’s proposal to narrow the definition of ‘document’ and broadens it to cover information held in electronic systems, including databases stored on “off site” servers. The EPP expressed the view that this would permit preparatory and confidential documents to be released and undermine civil servants’ “space to think”. This concern is based on a misunderstanding. The Regulation provides a wide definition of ‘document’ but also a wide range of exceptions in Article 4, which permit documents to be withheld to protect legitimate interests, such as commercial secrets or the space to think (Art. 4(3)). Narrowing the definition is thus unnecessary and may lead to requests being refused because the information is not contained in a ‘document’, regardless of any harm to legitimate interests.
  • Amendments 29, 35, 41 and 44 seek to enhance the openness of legislative procedures in line with Article 1 TEU (“decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen”), Article 15(3) TFEU, last paragraph and the Court of Justice of the EU’s case law. The EPP cautioned that increased access to preparatory legislative documents will significantly impair decision-making. We believe transparency of the legislative process is an essential democratic requirement, which will increase public understanding of and confidence in EU decision-making without undermining its effectiveness.
  • The EPP expressed its support for protection of privacy, data protection, commercial secrets and sensitive information related to court proceedings. These interests are currently effectively protected by Article 4 of the Regulation and this will not change under the report adopted by LIBE. 

The summary is included in a letter that three groups supporting the committee report — Access Info Europe, ClientEarth, and Greenpeace International  — sent to potential allies asking them to contact members of parliament.

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