Report Recommends Updating EU Access Regime

23 June 2016

European Union policies on access to documents are “seriously outdated,” according to a new report prepared for a parliamentary committee.

A series of mostly critical recommendations were made by the two law professor authors: Deirdre Curtin of the European University Institute of Florence and Päivi Leino-Sandberg of the University of Helsinki.

The report was commissioned by the Policy Department on Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.

The committee held a hearing on the subject of EU transparency on June 20 (see video).

The first conclusion of the report calls EU legislation on access to documents “seriously outdated.”

“The status quo is structurally inadequate,” the report continues. The Court of Justice of the European Union “is confronted with specific issues and outdated legislation on an ad hoc basis but cannot re-design the general system.” Nor can the European Ombudsman, the report says, praising her work.

The report lays responsibility for reform on the 2008 EU Access Regulation and lays out some general guidelines for more transparency.

Among other things, the authors question whether the European Central Bank should still be excluded from the provisions of the Access Regulation with regard to its policy-making and other tasks “given the manner that these tasks have expanded both in law and in practice since 2008.”

“We do not see why it requires a blanket exemption anymore,” the report states.

The Court of Justice “should be encouraged to facilitate more pro-actively the access to its own documents and the documents of intervening parties in a structured and transparent manner, except where the requirements of secrecy should prevail (in particular as regards deliberations among the judges) in the public interest,” according to the report.

Among other conclusions, the authors write that “the balance between transparency and data protection is currently too strongly tilted towards the latter and disregards the fact that transparency and openness are also fundamental rights that should override especially in situations where disclosure does not create harm for privacy.

Separately, the committee issued a report on the Aarhus Convention by Jonas Ebbesson, Chair of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, Dean at the Faculty of Law, Professor of Environmental Law, Director of Stockholm Environmental Law and Policy Centre at Stockholm University.

On access to information, the briefing paper concludes:

We see that some Member States have failed to comply with the requirements concerning access to information (Romania in particular, but also Austria). Possibly, Member States would better comply with these requirements if the Commission monitored more thoroughly the implementation and practice in the Member States.

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