24th Oct 2016

Talks collapse on access to EU documents

The Danish presidency has abandoned attempts to agree new rules on access to EU documents.

It took the decision on Tuesday (12 June) after EU countries and the European Commission last week rejected its latest draft of the law.

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.

It still wants MEPs to back a commission proposal to extend existing rules on freedom of information to all EU institutions - including its 31 agencies - however.

The existing rules go back to 2001. Pro-transparency advocates say they allow too much secrecy. EU officials say they waste time by ambiguity on what is open or not.

A big sticking point in the draft new law was access to legal opinions written by EU lawyers for their own policymakers.

Article 4.3b of the last Danish proposal said legal opinions should be made public unless it "would seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process" and if "there is an overriding public interest in disclosure."

MEPs and NGOs such as ClientEarth and AccessInfo believe people should be able to read them for the sake of democratic oversight.

For his part, Jean-Claude Piris, the former head of the EU Council's legal service, told EUobserver they are wrong.

He said that if lawyers think their papers will become public they will instead give oral advice at meetings of EU diplomats in what would amount to "a loss for the good legal application of the EU treaties."

He noted that off-the-cuff remarks only reach the people in the room. But written advice is drafted more carefully, translated into 23 EU languages and circulated to all levels of the hierarchy in EU capitals and in Brussels.

EU diplomats' meetings are minuted. But even if the minutes come out, they only record the broad outline and conclusions of talks.

Piris added that disclosure can create confusion because legal opinions are non-binding and pertain to fast-changing texts, but outsiders see them differently.

"To make it public creates inconvenience - it seems as if the advice is a legal judgment by a court or a tribunal. It's not. It's just poor civil servants who are saying Yes, No or Maybe," he said.

"There is no government in the world that does this [publishes internal legal opinions] ... and I think it should be the same here."

The incoming Cypriot presidency might pick up where Denmark left off. But the failed talks have left behind a nasty atmosphere.

A commission spokesman said last week that "nutty NGOs" abuse the system and that "the debate is infantile ... some people need to grow up."

The British centre-left MEP handling the dossier, Michael Cashman, took it personally.

"NGOs represent the interests of civil society and citizens, and the European Commission, ultimately, needs to work on their behalf. This is a basic democratic principle that the European Commission should 'grow up' on," he said in a letter to this website.


Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification

EU states should be "more vocal" with Turkey and play a more political role on reunification, Cyprus' EU ambassador told EUobserver.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  7. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  8. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  9. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  10. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  11. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  12. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity