Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"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.

The new European Commission: what's next?

Informal interviews with von der Leyen, hearings with parliamentary committees, and votes in the EU parliament and Council await the 26 candidates.

News in Brief

  1. German top lawmaker scolds Bettel over Johnson snub
  2. Greens decide on Tuesday on talks on Five Star joining
  3. Belgian mayors give Juncker a tongue-lashing
  4. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  5. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown
  6. Nato rings alarm on Gulf 'escalation'
  7. Luxembourg mockery of British leader sparks 'anger'
  8. Majority of Belgians against excluding Vlaams Belang

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  2. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  3. Trumpworld In Europe
  4. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  5. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  6. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  7. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  8. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us