Report Says EU Needs Stronger Transparency

3 February 2016

Transparency in the European Union needs strengthening, according to a new report by journalist Staffan Dahllöf.

The report, “Transparency through tinted windows,” was published by the Organisation for European Interstate Cooperation, a think tank financially supported by the European Parliament. The report was published in Swedish and translated into English.

Dahllöf examines the legal basis and history of transparency in the EU, concluding:

In summary, so far the right of access to EU documents has slowly but surely been strengthened throughout the years, at least in principle. But there has also been a tendency in the opposite direction.

He also looks at current and potential legislation, observing:

Two dark clouds are looming on the fast approaching horizon. Protection of trade secrets and the protection of personal information can become more severe restrictions on transparency than attempts so far to weaken core regulation.

The number of requests made to the Commission and their handling is summarized. The Commission’s registry of document is critiqued:

From the perspective of a user: For those who do not know exactly what documents he or she is looking for the official index is not of much help. The registry’s search function often gives incomplete or useless responses.

The report contains case studies in which Dahllöf sought documents in three topic areas: direct taxation, relations between the EU and Saudi Arabia and how President Jean-Claude Juncker handles his e-mails. On the later topic, the conclusion is: “The answer to the question on whether it is possible to see the extent of, and access to, the President’s correspondence is yes, in principle, but it is not easy in practice.”

The report summarizes positive and negative elements of the EU openness regime.

Text of Conclusions

The final conclusions:

* Stop attempts to diminish the existing regulation; tighten if possible the current exemptions for access to documents.

* Establish a working directory of the Commission’s documents – the Council of Ministers registers indicates that large amounts of data may well be searchable, and registers made relatively user-friendly if there is a will.

* Let Romano Prodi and Cecilia Malmström lead the way: Establish a searchable list of all commissioners’ correspondence.

* Make it possible to appeal principally important rejections of access to the European Court of Justice also for non-financially strong organizations and companies.

* Shorten the processing time for access to documents.

* Ensure that an upcoming data protection regulation, and a future directive on the protection of trade secrets do not weaken existing transparency rules.

* Secure the EU member states right and ability to maintain or establish national rules of access that allow greater openness than 28 member states can agree upon collectively. EU legislation should form a common floor but not restrictive ceiling for transparency and participation.

* Take advantage of the opportunities that exist to educate the EU institutions, to raise awareness amongst the legislators and to create as good a practice as possible for others.

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