Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Brussels journalists unhappy with 'routine secrecy'

Journalists in Brussels are dissatisfied with the "routine secrecy" that goes on in the EU institutions, an association of foreign journalists said after an information request from the group was only partially upheld by an EU court.

On Wednesday the Court of First Instance (CFI), partially upheld an appeal by the Brussels-based Association de la Press Internationale (API), ruling that the European Commission in two out of four instances "committed an error of assessment by refusing access" to certain documents and that the decisions "must be annulled".

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In the third and fourth instance, the court held that the refusal of access to documents was justified due to the sensitive nature of the particular cases.

On 1 August 2003, API asked the commission for access to all the written submissions made by the commission to the CFI or the European Court of Justice in a number of cases, such as legal actions between the EU executive and different companies.

However, a few months later, the commission refused access to its pleadings in the cases despite a 2001 EU regulation on transparency, which mandates access to documents held by the EU Institutions.

The Luxembourg-based CFI stated that the EU executive does not have to give access to pleadings before the oral hearing, but must disclose pleadings after the hearing unless it cites a specific reason why such a disclosure would harm its position before the court.

"As a result of our action, the commission will be forced now to grant more access to its documents, even though not as much as we wanted", said Lorenzo Consoli, journalist and head of API.

"Despite our partial victory today, we are not quite satisfied," he said in a statement after the ruling. "We continue to believe that in a democratic society there is no place for routine secrecy – aside from business secrets – when the European Commission submits arguments to the [bloc's] courts."

The group's lawyer, Sven Völcker, said in a statement that API would continue fighting for more transparency in an appeal to the EU's highest court – The European Court of Justice.

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