Groups Detail Concerns With EU Access Stalemate

9 March 2012

More than 30 groups have signed a March 8 letter initiated by Access Info Europe to influence the outcome of behind-the-scenes discussions about access to documents in the European Union.

The Danish Presidency of the European Union has circulated a “non-paper” in an effort to break a stalemate between the European Commission and the European parliament over reform of the Access to Documents rules (Regulation 1049/2001) by July 2012.

Parliament in December adopted its first reading position on the proposed reforms. (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

The Feb. 13 non-paper, not officially released, was to be the basis for discussions March 9 by  the Working Party on Information, according to the document. The Danish non-paper briefly discusses 10 issues and for each suggests a “Preliminary View” about an outcome.

Contentious Meeting

Strong debate ensued at the March 9, according to well-placed European source. Another meeting is planned for March 27, by which time the Danish President may have updated its document.

 Some of the most contentious issues include the handling of documents containing legal advice and the protection of  data.

20 Concerns in Civil Society Letter

The letter from the right to information constituency describes 20 areas of concern, but does not address the Danish non-paper specifically.

Among other things, the letter calls for a “a simple and broad definition of a document” and a requirement to provide access to documents in an open, machine-readable format, free of copyright restrictions and without limitations on re-use.

“We call for Regulation 1049 to be modified to make clear that all exceptions are subject to both a harm and a public interest test, which is not currently the case,” the letter also states.

The authors reject  the idea of exempting entire classes of information such as “documents submitted to the Courts by natural or legal persons or documents containing information gathered or obtained from natural or legal persons in the course of investigations by the EU.”

The letter says, “We support the procedure for consulting with Member States before releasing a document but call for language which prevents Member States having a veto on release of a document.”

The letter supports several proposals to encourage proactive publication.

 “We reject the proposal (by the Parliament) to allow privileged access for research purposes to material that would otherwise fall under one of the exceptions,” according to the letter.

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