Friday

16th Apr 2021

Sweden: EU data bill threatens transparency

  • The draft EU data protection regulation is too vague on access to documents, says Sweden's ministry of justice (Photo: Marcin Wichary)

Sweden’s ministry of justice says the EU’s draft data protection law could upset the delicate balance between transparency and privacy in its own national law on access to documents.

“With a regulation there is a need to make it perfectly clear that member states may keep their national rules on access to documents,” said David Torngren, an official at Sweden’s ministry of justice, in an email on Tuesday (19 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Torngren described the right of access to official documents as a cornerstone of the Swedish constitution for the past 250 years.

“[It] has proved essential to ensure public oversight of public affairs,” he noted.

The EU data protection regulation is seen as one of the more complex legislative bills currently being pushed through at EU level.

Nearly 3,200 amendments have been tabled at the European Parliament alone.

The draft aims to overhaul a 1995 data protection directive to provide uniform data protection laws across member states. The "right to be forgotten" and "informed consent" are among some of the changes aimed to strengthen people's privacy rights.

Torngren’s concern stems from a vague one-line description of access to public documents buried near the bottom of the commission’s draft bill.

The sentence notes that the regulation “allows the principle of public access to official documents to be taken into account.”

But the terminology is too vague for some.

Swedish socialist MEP Anna Hedh, who tabled an amendment to clarify the text, says the sentence would render it more difficult to get a hold of public documents because of tougher privacy rights set at the EU level.

The Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) says member states should reserve balance privacy rights and access to documents.

Such a national balance should be clearly reflected in the regulation, says FRA.

“The problem is that it is not really a strong EU competence,” Mario Oetheimer, who heads FRA’s privacy and data protection freedoms and justice department, told this website on Wednesday.

The European Parliament is moving towards the FRA’s position and has added a line to the bill giving public authorities the right to disclose personal data in documents in accordance to member state laws.

German Green MEP Jan Albrecht, who drafted the parliament’s report, added the clause but as part of a minor provision.

Albrecht told EUobserver that he was open to the idea of expanding the text “to make sure that the access to documents is a right which is not overwritten by data protection in this regulation.”

He noted that outstanding issues remain in the area of fundamental rights, including transparency and freedom of expression, and how this could affect the privacy concerns outlined in the regulation, however.

“We still have some work to do on those areas,” he said.

The legal complications, he pointed out, come from the regulation’s attempt to harmonise competing fundamental rights where the EU has limited competence.

For its part, the commission says the regulation does not prevent the public access to documents and that it is seeking to resolve any outstanding issue with Sweden’s justice minister Beatrice Ask.

"I understand that this is an issue of constitutional and cultural importance. I am prepared to work on a tailor-made provision to deal with this,” said EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding in early March.

Academics line up to defend EU data protection law

Leading academics across Europe are signing an online petition to support the European Commission’s draft data protection regulation in protest at industry lobbying to weaken it.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us