Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

Brussels hits out at 'nutty NGOs' and corporate sharks

  • Archives at the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf: how much access is too much? (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Commission has said EU freedom of information rules should be tightened up because corporate lawyers and NGOs abuse the system.

Its spokesman, Antony Gravili, told EUobserver on Wednesday (6 June) that most requests to see internal EU documents come from "lawyers for big corporations" and "nutty NGOs" instead of concerned EU citizens.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Lawyers involved in big competition cases try to get commercially sensitive information through the back door ... If they got it, the victims would go straight to court to sue us for millions and they would win," he said.

"Nutty NGOs say things like: 'Please send us details of every email, every phonecall or note ever written at any level on this subject from 2001 to 2006' ... When a desk officer writes a paper, they want to see it after he's written the first sentence before going on his coffee break," he added.

"As soon as our response comes, it goes in the bin and they send their next request. They think its funny to waste officials' time."

The commission in 2008 put out draft new rules to replace a 2001 regulation on the subject.

It put out another draft in 2011 to extend existing rules to all EU institutions, such as the European Central Bank and EU agencies.

Both bills are being blocked by the EU parliament, which says they are a step backward on transparency, however.

"We have said over and over that every document, every single sentence that would have been released under the old regime would still be released under the new one ... We are just trying to bring extra clarity. The debate is infantile and some people need to grow up," Gravili said.

Diplomats from EU member states will on Friday debate a new Danish EU presidency proposal designed to end the stalemate.

A contact familiar with the Danes' latest draft said it has more relaxed wording on documents in competition cases, infringement procedures, appointment of senior officials and legal advice from EU institutions.

While the previous draft spoke of "block exemptions" for the papers, the new version says the documents "shall be presumed as being" out of bounds if the EU institutions can demonstrate it would cause harm to release them, shifting the burden of proof from applicants to officials.

A small minority - Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden - are pushing for what they say is more transparency. But the majority of member states want to see tighter rules.

A Swedish contact noted: "We still don't like it [the new draft], but it's better." An Estonian source said: "We do agree that it is better. But we should keep in mind that the Lisbon Treaty clearly demands more transparency."

If member states endorse the new Danish draft on Friday, Denmark will resume talks with MEPs next week.

Eurozone bank needs more scrutiny, says NGO

Transparency International says eurozone's central bank is not subject to "appropriate democratic scrutiny" and should have no say on EU bailout projects.

Analysis

From Bratislava to Rome: Little more than a show of unity

The so-called Bratislava process of reflection for the EU came to an end on Saturday, but there were few tangible results that citizens could take away from the soul-searching. Despite that, unity among the EU-27 has been maintained.

Rome summit tries to restart EU momentum

EU 27 leaders in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of Treaty of Rome, in bid to counter rising challenges after Brexit. But new ideas are scarce.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Controlling the right of repeal

There was a distinct air of finality about Sir Tim Barrow's personal delivery of the Article 50 letter in Brussels – it certainly marks the end of an era.

Be fair in Brexit talks, EU tells UK

European Council chief Tusk sent draft guidelines to member states. He said the EU wants "fairness" and then warned against using security cooperation as bargaining chip.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  2. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan
  3. Ivanka Trump to meet Merkel at Berlin women's conference
  4. Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in 20 years
  5. Nord Stream 2 to get €4.8bn from European energy firms
  6. Defeated Fillon retires from French politics
  7. Hollande: Vote Macron to avoid 'risk' for France
  8. Italy misses deadline on air quality warning

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children