Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

EU accused of 'step back' in transparency

  • The commission unveiled its document access overhaul last April (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU's transparency watchdog will today strongly criticise the European Commission's commitment to openness, saying its recent proposals on document access represent a "step backwards."

At a hearing in parliament on Monday afternoon (2 June) to discuss the proposed overhaul of public access to document rules, EU ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros will say: "The commission's proposals would mean access to fewer, not more, documents" and that the new code "ignores the lessons of the past."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The ombudsman, who oversees EU citizens' relations with the European institutions, has not been able to "identify any of the commission's proposals that would result in more documents being accessible than at present."

The criticism comes a month after the commission unveiled proposals to update a 2001 law on document transparency that has been subject to strong criticism by MEPs and NGOs for being too restrictive.

But according to the ombudsman, while some proposals would make "fewer documents accessible," others are based on "contestable understandings of [EU] case law" and some entirely new proposals "are difficult to reconcile with a genuine commitment to ensuring the widest possible access to documents."

The proposal to change the definition of a document - so that only papers that have been formally sent to people or otherwise registered could be said to be a "document" - means that the commission will effectively decide what documents are covered by the new law.

In addition, the commission has proposed that documents containing information about "natural or legal persons" that are part of an investigation should never be available to the public - a move that goes beyond the current situation.

Betrayal of promises to citizens

The third main proposal in the commission's transparency regulation is also condemned by Mr Diamandouros. The commission is proposing that all documents - currently it is only internal documents - involved in the period before a formal commission decision is made be exempted from public scrutiny.

The effect of this would be to "give the commission discretion to share documents informally with a limited number of favoured external recipients of its choice" without risk that these documents will later be legally available to the public.

The ombudsman's has some praise for the fact that the commission's proposal will cover citizens everywhere and no longer just in the EU and that Brussels is calling for clearer procedural rules in all institutions on making documents available.

But overall, he says they betray "promises to citizens, civil society and representative associations made in the Treaty of Lisbon."

Mounting up

This is not the only criticism the new proposals have received. UK civil liberties organisation Statewatch last month called aspects of the reforms "highly retrogressive."

The ombudsman is calling on MEPs to play "an active role" in shaping the new legislation.

However, the European Parliament's own standing on transparency took a blow earlier this year when MEPs voted down a proposal to make auditors' reports public as a matter of principle.

A recent auditor's report, unavailable to the public, revealed cases of MEPs abusing their monthly staff allowances.

EU proposes yearly rule-of-law 'reviews'

EU states ought to undergo a yearly "Rule of Law Review Cycle" to help stop countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania from backsliding on EU norms, the European Commission has said.

EU defends US data pact, as Facebook court case opens

An Austrian privacy campaigner vs Facebook over the future of data transfers to the US case opened at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Tuesday. The European Commission, meanwhile, says the Privacy Shield pact is working fine.

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. PiS & Fidesz claim credit for von der Leyen victory
  2. Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts
  3. EU proposes yearly rule-of-law 'reviews'
  4. Poland 'optimistic' despite new EU law checks
  5. What did we learn from the von der Leyen vote?
  6. Is Golden Dawn's MEP head of a criminal organisation?
  7. Finland rejects call to end sponsorship of EU presidency
  8. MH17 five years on: when will Russia be punished?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us