Tuesday

24th Oct 2017

Transparency NGOs call on EU not to restrict document access

  • The groups worry that details of EU business will be kept secret from citizens and journalists (Photo: Koen Vereeken)

The EU is set to tightly restrict its freedom-of-information rules just seven years after they were introduced, says an alliance of some 180 human rights organisations, transparency pressure groups and journalist unions, which have called on the European Parliament to apply the breaks to proposed legislation.

On the weekend a public letter signed by 56 investigative journalists and 131 groups including transparency and access-to-information campaigners and environmental NGOs warned that European Commission proposals that are set to be approved in the coming weeks will "substantially reduce the number of public documents" available upon request.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Under the new rules, originally proposed in 2008 and as of Tuesday (1 February) at committee stage before the parliament, only documents that are formally transmitted would be made available upon request to a member of the public.

As thousands of documents are informally passed between European policymakers, the alliance fears that such papers and emails will now be out of bounds to the public.

Such language could even encourage policymakers to begin engaging in administrative practices that actively avoid formal transmission of documents so as to prevent the public from gaining access to them.

The new rules would also allow member states to fix more robust powers to refuse access to their communications with EU institutions and restrict access to documents involved within disputes initiated by the commission against national capitals.

"Everyone in Europe has the right to know what their elected representatives are doing with the power entrusted to them and how the public's money is being spent," said Helen Darbishire, director of Access Info Europe, a group of lawyers that trains citizens how to demand documents from their governments. "Our representatives should be fighting to extend the rights of citizens, not reduce them."

The groups called on the parliamentary committee responsible for tackling the legislation ahead of a sitting of the full chamber, the Civil Liberties and Justice and Home Affairs Committee, to amend the legislation to strip out the language they feel is restrictive.

On Tuesday, the committee had an initial exchange of views on the proposed legislation. Amendments will be considered in the coming weeks.

The commission, for its part, says it "disputes the interpretation of the transparency groups", according to institutional affairs spokesman Michael Mann.

"We believe that in general any document handed out today would also be handed out under an amended regulation as suggested by the commission," he continued, saying that the proposal aims at unpicking the "vagueness" of what counts as a document "whether a few sentences on a paper, the beginning of a draft text etc. are to be considered a document."

However, he added, many member states have "accepted that there is an issue to be looked at" and the commission is "completely open to discuss alternative texts that achieve the same goal - greater legal clarity for both the applicant and for the official handling the application."

However, in the meantime, two groups involved have even been refused access to documents relating to these changes to access-to-documents legislation.

Parallel to the call, Access Info Europe and Client Earth, a group of environmental lawyers filed lawsuits to try to gain access to two documents concerning the changes. The first case was launched in 2009 after being refused permission to see one document showing the positions of the different member states on this issue and the second case was launched last September after being refused access to a key document covering the decision making process behind this legislation.

It's not the first time the proposals have been criticised. Shortly after they were first published by the commission in 2008, the European ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, warned: "The Commission's proposals would mean access to fewer, not more, documents. This raises fundamental issues of principle about the EU's commitment to openness and transparency."

"While there are some positive elements, such as making documents available to non-citizens and non-residents of the EU, many of the commission's proposals would narrow the right of access to EU documents," he went on, describing the move as: "step backwards for transparency."

The alliance also includes, amongst many others, such groups as the Dutch–Flemish Association of Investigative Journalists, the Estonian Newspaper Association, Farmsubsidy.org, the German Civil Liberties Union and a range of transparency groups from eastern Europe.

EU countries praise Tusk's new summit plans

EU capitals voice support for more summits, tackling divisive issues and sometimes deciding by majority - not consensus - as outlined in the European Council president's plan.

Court battles intensifies on MEPs' 'private' expenses

The EU parliament said the public does not have a right to monitor the public role of MEPs, says Natasa Pirc Musar, a lawyer representing journalists, in a transparency battle against the assembly.

Eurogroup closes Schaeuble era

Eurozone finance ministers bade farewell to their longest-serving and most influential colleague, while preparing to also replace its chairman at the end of the year.

Court battles intensifies on MEPs' 'private' expenses

The EU parliament said the public does not have a right to monitor the public role of MEPs, says Natasa Pirc Musar, a lawyer representing journalists, in a transparency battle against the assembly.

EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote

As the renewal of the weedkiller glyphosate is a hot potato on the EU agenda, with a vote in the Parliament on Thursday, the role of two closely-involved EU agencies has come under scrutiny.

News in Brief

  1. May: EU member states will not lose out with Brexit
  2. Slovakia pledges to be 'pro-European' oasis in region
  3. Report: Catalan leader to address Spanish senate
  4. Fiat-Chrysler 'obstructed justice' reports Le Monde
  5. EU presidency 'confident' on posted workers agreement
  6. Young conservatives boot out Erdogan's party
  7. Tsipras urged to let refugees go before winter sets in
  8. Thousands demand justice in Malta

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreI Say Europe, You Say...? Interview With EU Commission VP Jyrki Katainen
  2. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  4. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  5. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  6. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  7. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  10. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  11. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  12. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe

Latest News

  1. EU commission denies May 'begged for help' comments
  2. Interpol needs EU help to stop abuse
  3. Glyphosate protesters hold meeting with Commission
  4. Catalan MPs weigh independence declaration
  5. Russia used Interpol 'loophole' against EU activist
  6. Italian regions demand autonomy from Rome
  7. Populist victory puts Czech EU policy in doubt
  8. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  2. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  3. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  5. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  6. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  7. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  8. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  9. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation