Monday

29th May 2017

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.

EU states appeal court ruling on transparency

EU member states are set to launch an appeal of a lower court decision with the European Court of Justice hoping to prevent greater transparency in decision-making - even about transparency rules themselves.

EU hands personal data to US authorities on daily basis

EU and US co-operation in combatting terrorism remains shrouded in secrecy as Europol, the EU police agency, refuses to render public an inspection report that details how financial data is handed over to US authorities.

Court ruling to boost access to EU documents

EU institutions must demonstrate that the disclosure of a document effectively harms the public interest if they want to deny publication, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhat's Going on in Catalonia? Join the Debate on 8 June
  2. Malta EU 2017EU Group Launched to Focus on Priorities and Policies Concerning Children
  3. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  6. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  7. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  8. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  10. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  11. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  12. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition