EU Presidency Seeks Solution on Controversial Access Rules

10 February 2012

By Staffan Dahllöf

Dahllöf is co-editor of Wobbing Europe, where this article first appeared.

The Danish EU-presidency has taken unusual steps to promote adoption of new access rules: Member countries have been summoned to conflict talks, before there is an open conflict.

The aim is to facilitate an update of regulation 1049/2001, the soon to be 11 year old EU-rules on access to documents held by the institutions. This delayed process has gained momentum after the European Parliament voted on its positions in December last year.

But the method used by the presidency is extraordinary.

Nicolai Wammen, minister of European affairs (Social Democrat), explains in diplomatic language:

Negotiations will be very difficult. There are very different positions in this case, both within the Council and the Parliament. As I see it the only way forward is to show a pragmatic and realistic approach. We are no having talks with all actors and we encourage forcefully to show flexibility and a will to compromise.


This might sound like undramatic mumbo-jumbo.

But the statement confirms that the presidency has had bilateral talks with all member states even before the formal discussions in the Council has begun.

Normally “bilaterals” are used late in EU-negotiations as a method to single out and to solve infected questions if actors threaten to block the talks. Now bilaterals are held in order to get negotiations off from start in the first place.

“This is unusual, very unusual,” says one national official who has been contacted by the foreign ministry in Copenhagen.

The talks with governments one by one have been initiated because of a fear that negotiations in the group of 27 quickly might come to a stalemate – not to mention negotiations with the Parliament.

This fear is not unfounded.

Deep Divide Between Commission, Parliament  

A majority of the member countries in the Council are believed to support the Commission proposal for a new regulation.

In the Parliament the situation is reversed: A majority of members is highly critical to the proposal, which they fear will be a backlash for transparency. (The different conflict areas can be found here).

In a broad perspective it could seem as if a loose alliance of small nordic and eastern countries opposes the Commission’s proposal, backed by the centre-left groups in the Parliament.

Under the surface it gets more complicated.

Positions Unclear

The transparency alliance is at the moment wobbling in the Council with government representatives having difficulties finding out who is a friend and who is a foe.

And in the Parliament positions don’t strictly follow party lines, as illustrated by Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, an Italian born Swedish member of the conservative party group EPP (European People’s Party – Christian Democrats).

Corazza Bildt and some 30 other members voted against their own group, and voted together with the Social Democrats, Liberals, Greens and Leftwings, in December.

“Considering all confusions caused by the economical crisis, and the important decisions that have been taken recently it is more important than ever for ordinary people to be able to follow, to apprehend and to scrutinize EU’s work. When people are asked to make huge sacrifices the EU must be open to them, and not only tell them what to do after decision have been taken,” she says.

Corazza Bildt also opposes the notion of transparency as an exclusive nordic hallmark.  “I was followed by my Italian colleagues in the Committee (Civil Liberties Justice and Home Affairs). The issue of access to documents does not follow a north-south dividing line,” she says.

Shortlist Presented

After having talked to their colleagues and counterparts individually the Danish negotiators are believed to present a “shortlist” of the most thorny issues in the proposal for new access rules to start formal negotiations in the Council’s Information Working Party.

If this will help negotiations to take off or not remains to be seen.

A problem for pro transparency negotiators is the lack of debate and interest in the matter, to counter the dominating opinion. This is felt in spite of recent criticism of EU-technocrats forcing austerity solutions upon member states, and failing to fill the legitimisation gap.

“There is no interest from governments, and no real pressure from the Parliament to promote transparency. The outcome now depends on how journalists act,” says one of the actors involved.

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