Thursday

5th May 2016

Commission pushes for document secrecy despite court judgement

The European Commission and national governments are seeking to crack down on the rules granting access to their internal documents despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice calling on them to release legal opinions drafted by the EU Council's legal service.

A ruling on Friday (May 4th) by the European Court of Justice brought an end to a two-year legal dispute between Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld and the European Council over access to documents regarding the controversial Swift agreement on transferring banking data.

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.

In July 2009, In't Veld demanded access to an opinion drafted by the council's legal service regarding the start of negotiations on Swift.

The agreement was finally approved by the European Parliament in July 2010 after the EU secured a set of safeguards on privacy and data protection rights. An earlier pact between EU and US officials in January 2010 was rejected by MEPs who claimed it would give the US unrestricted access to data in the EU.

Under the agreement, US investigators have access to the 80 percent of electronic bank transfers which are facilitated by Swift. The council refused to release the papers, claiming that disclosure of the document would "negatively impact on the European Union's negotiating position" and that the analysis was "only intended for the members of the council."

The Luxembourg-court dismissed this however, saying that the council had "not established the risk of a threat to the public interest" and described as "not convincing" the attempts to show that disclosure would undermine the protection of legal advice.

In't Veld - who earlier this year drafted a report for the parliament's civil liberties committee calling on MEPs to reject the EU/US agreement on the data transfer of flight passengers - described the ruling as "a step forward for transparency in Europe" which establishes a precedent that "negotiations on international agreements are not automatically exempt from EU transparency rules."

The court ruling comes as the European Parliament and ministers remain at loggerheads over the re-cast of the 10 year old regulation on public access to documents held by the EU institutions.

In December 2011 the parliament adopted a report by British centre-left MEP Michael Cashman aimed at increasing the access of members of the public to EU documents.

Cashman criticised the commission proposal, arguing that it would "represent a step backwards for transparency." He is now seeking to cut the number of exceptions for disclosure and to reform the types of documents that would remain classified. He also wants to impose sanctions on officials who refuse to comply with the regulations.

However, Maros Sefcovic, the EU commissioner responsible for relations between the institutions, remains insistent that the EU executive will not accept these measures.

Instead, the commission, backed by a majority in the council of ministers, is bidding to designate more documents as "meriting special protection" - excluding them from public access.

Their proposal, set out in working papers by the commission and the Danish presidency, would block access to papers on competition cases looking at cartels, mergers and state-aid, court proceedings, infringement procedures and legal advice.

If no agreement can be found between parliament and the council the existing regulation will remain in place.

News in Brief

  1. EU Commission proposes visa-free travel for Turkey
  2. Iceland in court for not respecting EU laws
  3. Sweden registers more asylum application withdrawals
  4. German Pegida leader convicted of inciting hatred
  5. ECB expected to stop printing €500 notes
  6. Spain dissolves parliament for 26 June election
  7. Germany to legalise cannabis for medicinal use
  8. Hungary to hold migrant quota referendum by October

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppetiersBrexit Could Increase Support for Independence in Pro-EU Scotland
  2. European Music CouncilRegister Now for the 6th European Forum on Music in Wroclaw, European Capital of Culture 2016
  3. Belgrade Security ForumJoin Our Team for the 6th Belgrade Security Forum. Apply Now! Deadline May 20
  4. European Roundtable of IndustrialistsCompanies Make Progress on Number of Women in Leadership Roles
  5. Counter BalanceParliament Gets Tough on Control EU Bank's Funds
  6. ICRCSyria: Aleppo on the Brink of Humanitarian Disaster
  7. CESIWorld Day For Health and Safety at Work: Public Sector Workers in The Focus
  8. EFABasque Peace Process-Arnaldo Otegi Visits the European Parliament
  9. EscardioChina Pays Price of Western Lifestyle With Soaring Childhood Obesity
  10. Centre Maurits CoppetiersThe Existence of a State is a Question of Fact, Not a Question of Law
  11. ICRCSyria: Aid for Over 120,000 People Arrives in Besieged Town Near Homs