Friday

22nd Nov 2019

No compromise in sight on EU document secrecy

  • 'Who decides what was 'intended' or when something is 'finalised'?' (Photo: European Commission)

Negotiators remain far apart on new rules to govern which internal EU documents can be released for public scrutiny.

Jakob Alvi, the Danish EU presidency spokesman, told EUobserver on Tuesday (22 May) that member states and the European Parliament rapporteur on the dossier, British center-left MEP Michael Cashman, remain poles apart after initial talks, set to continue on Wednesday.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"He made it clear the negotiating mandate that we [member states] have is not something he can accept ... and the same goes the other way around," Alvi noted.

EU countries agreed their position earlier this month in a paper leaked and denounced by the London-based pro-transparency NGO Statewatch.

Its most controversial provisions include: restricting the definition of what is an official EU document; giving member states the right to veto disclosure on the basis of national legislation; excluding legal advice given by EU institutions to their own policy makers; and giving "block exemption" to papers in ongoing infringement procedures against EU countries or in competition cases.

Member states want to define a document as any text "formally transmitted to one or more recipients, submitted for filing or registration, approved by the competent official, or otherwise completed for the purposes for which it was intended."

They add that disclosure of institutions' legal advice "shall be presumed to undermine the protection of legal advice."

A parliament source told EUobserver the proposed definition of a document is so subjective it would give officials too much leeway to say No.

"Their definition is too broad. Who decides what was 'intended' or when something is 'finalised'?" the contact said.

The Danish presidency hopes to bring the two sides together in time for the last General Affairs Council of its EU chairmanship on 26 June. But the parliament is in a good position to stand its ground.

If it blocks the changes, an extant regulation from 2001, seen by MEPs as more transparent than the new-draft rules, will stay in force. The incoming Cypriot EU presidency has said it has no interest in continuing talks.

A ruling by the European Court of Justice in the so called Turco case in 2008, which says legal advice should be made public, also backs parliament's point of view. But Denmark's Alvi said MEPs should be keen to establish that "co-legislators" (the parliament and EU countries) have more power over EU rules than judges in Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, Sweden, has said it would vote against the reforms as they stand. Estonia, Finland and Slovenia have also said they dislike the EU member states' proposal, even though they agree to use it as a starting point in talks.

The group represents a small minority against the 22-country-strong pro-secrecy camp. But the strength of feeling on the pro-transparency side was highlighted in a letter from Sweden's minister of justice, Beatrice Ask, to Cashman on 14 May.

"A compromise like the one suggested in the text presented to us would most certainly lead to less transparency," she wrote.

"It is of utmost importance that we continue to stand strong in our convictions, and to co-operate in order to find solutions which allow our citizens the level of transparency they are entitled to."

Correction: This article was altered at 11.30 Brussels time on 23 May to reflect more accurately the position of some member states. The original story said Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Slovenia would vote against the draft proposal

Commission pushes for document secrecy despite court judgement

The EU commission and national governments are seeking to tighten rules granting access to their internal documents despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice calling on them to release legal opinions drafted by the EU Council’s legal service.

EU states appeal court ruling on transparency

EU member states are set to launch an appeal of a lower court decision with the European Court of Justice hoping to prevent greater transparency in decision-making - even about transparency rules themselves.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament votes on new commission next week
  2. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  3. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  4. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  5. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  6. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  7. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  8. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Column

Why the EU can't do security and defence

What if the EU can't guarantee European security? In times when US physical presence does not make up for its mental absence, the question got urgent.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP congress pledges 'moderate' climate solution
  2. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  3. New EU financial instruments needed
  4. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  5. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  6. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  7. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  8. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us