18th Mar 2018

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).

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.

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.

EU told to create coalition against fake news

After almost two months of talks, a panel of experts set up by the EU commission have issued a series of recommendations on how to fight fake news or what they prefer to term 'disinformation'.

Poland defends judicial reforms, warns against EU pressure

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented the Commission with 94-pages of arguments backing Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms - while his EU minister warns that constant conflict with Brussels could stoke anti-European sentiment.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden emerges as possible US-North Korean summit host
  2. Google accused of paying academics backing its policies
  3. New interior minister: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'
  4. Hamburg 'dieselgate' driver wins case to get new VW car
  5. Slovak deputy PM asked to form new government
  6. US, Germany, France condemn 'assault on UK sovereignty'
  7. MEPs accept Amsterdam as seat for EU medicines agency
  8. Auditors: EU farm 'simplification' made subsidies more complex

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceConmtroversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  2. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  5. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  7. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  8. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  9. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  10. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  11. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  12. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework

Latest News

  1. Brexit and trade will top This WEEK
  2. Dutch MPs in plan to shut EU website on Russian propaganda
  3. Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea
  4. Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant
  5. Merkel in Paris for eurozone reform talks
  6. Commission rejects ombudsman criticism over Barroso case
  7. Western allies back UK amid Russian media blitz
  8. Meet the European Parliament's twittersphere