Danish-Led Talks on EU Access Break Down

15 June 2012

By Staffan Dahllöf

This article appeared June 14 in Wobbing Europe. Another report was done by the EU Observer. Late last week, the Danish proposals failed to gain approval at a key meeting, see previous report.

While words like collapse, and breakdown make the headlines on news about the negotiations for access to documents in the EU, there are reasons to quote the american author Samuel L Clemens, known as Mark Twain: “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Facts are that the Danish presidency has given up its attempt to push forward for a recast of the present rules, and has taken back its latest proposals in the matter.

This can in a formal way be described as a failure, since Denmark has not been able to fulfil expectations of being a skilled negotiator.

In reality it is difficult to find any presidency source who mourns about this. “We are still pondering on an possible continuity in the meaning of a small adjustment to the Lisbon treaty. Should that fail as well, we do have got a pretty good regulation in place since 2001,” to quote a typical comment.

Common sense

Nor does MEP Michael Cashman, (UK, Labour) rapporteur and negotiator for the Parliament, blame the presidency:
“To be honest I believe the presidency has conducted a valiant exercise, but the Commission has constantly failed to bring any of the proposed amendments forward. When the presidency wanted to suggest a new definition of documents the Commissions asked: Why do you want to do that?” he says.

The announced failure has also triggered some positive comments.

Tony Bunyan, director of documentation centre and civil rights watchdog Statewatch: “This is a victory for common sense, all the alternatives on the table would have fundamentally undermined openness.”

Jonas Nordling, president of the Swedish Journalists Union: “The current rules are preferable because both the commission’s original proposal and the mandate that was the basis for tripartite negotiations had led to clear deterioration of the transparency in EU activities for the citizens. At the same time, it’s a weakness by the European Commission not to live up to the Lisbon Treaty, which clearly indicates that the EU should be more open to citizens.”

Demands from the treaty

The remaining question to be solved, and the reason to quote Mark Twain, is whether the present rules should be adjusted to the Lisbon treaty.

There are two reasons for this:

* The treaty spells out that all EU-bodies and not only the Commission, the Parliament and the Council should be covered by the transparency rules and this is to be addressed by an regulation (EU-law).

* The treaty makes explicit reference to good governance and the participation of civil society (article 15.1 in the Treaty of the functioning of the EU) when stating access to documents (article 15.3). This article stresses that the Parliament and the Council “shall ensure publication of the documents relating to the legislative procedures ” (note procedures in plural).

Tony Bunyan at Statewatch says in at comment that this makes “Lisbonising” a bit more tricky than the presidency might think: “The Council and the European Parliament have to meet in public when considering draft legislative acts and to ensure the publication of the documents relating to legislative procedures. This gives the European Parliament a real opportunity to insist that the Treaty obligations are fully met.”

“All the documents concerning legislative procedures have to be made public, including those discussed between the two legislatures (the Council and the European Parliament) in 1st and 2nd reading trilogue meetings which are currently kept secret, ” Bunyan adds.

Lisbonising Plus

But how to do it?

MEP Michael Cashman says a “slim reform” to adjust to the Lisbon treaty is not really needed as such: “The Lisbon treaty exists and is in force. If we (the Parliament) were to go down that line we would need a package that not only covers all the institutions, but also balances privacy and transparency, enforces transparency officers and adds a political declaration for the future.”

In other words: The Parliament will not just settle for a small adjustment. The Parliament is demanding a “Lisbonising Plus.”

On paper these demands go down well with the pro-transparent minority in the Council.

In reality that can not be taken for granted.

There is also a fear that prolonged discussions might result in a backlash, undermining the present rules, and that yet another round of negotiations will not result in anything better than what has been achieved so far.

And to add to the confusion: Who should take the initiative?

Waiting for the lady

Words have it the Commissions who has the monopoly to initiate new EU-laws has lost interest and has declared that it will not put forward its own Lisbonising-proposal from 2011.

The outgoing Danish presidency is hesitant of what to do.

But some of the mayor countries in the Council have shown an interest to solve this issue now.

It is therefore believed that an upcoming meeting of EU-ambassadors (known as COREPER) will pick up some of the pieces dropped to the floor by the Danish presidency.

Hence, there is also a reason to quote another american, sports commentator Dan Cook, who is supposed to be the originator of the following: “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

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