Wednesday

16th Jan 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.

MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

The EU parliament's internal chiefs have so far refused to introduce mandatory training on dealing with sexual harassment. MEPs have now asked for it again.

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  2. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  3. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  4. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  5. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  6. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  7. German economy hit by global economic turbulence
  8. MEPs narrowly call for end to 'tampon tax'

Opinion

Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating

New rules are needed that do not place the heaviest burdens on a few countries, but ensure that all countries benefit from the euro. Avoiding imbalances in trade between countries can do this.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us