9th Jul 2020

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 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

EUobserver under attack in wider battle for EU free press

If EU citizens want to know the truth, then journalists need protection from malicious litigation, as EUobserver joined the list of targets, over an article about the late Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

MEP in police protection after Czech PM calls him 'traitor'

Three MEPs received numerous death threats in the Czech Republic for asking questions about how EU funds are being spent. One of them had his entire family under police protection after people threatened to murder his four children.

News in Brief

  1. Rushdie, Fukuyama, Rowling warn against 'intolerance'
  2. Clashes in Belgrade after new lockdown measures
  3. US passes milestone of 3m coronavirus infections
  4. France wary of any future lockdowns
  5. Lithuania bans Kremlin-linked Russia Today programmes
  6. UK nominates Liam Fox for WTO top job
  7. Italy supports Spain's Calviño for Eurogroup job
  8. France and Germany warn Israel on annexation 'consequences'

EUobserver under attack in wider battle for EU free press

If EU citizens want to know the truth, then journalists need protection from malicious litigation, as EUobserver joined the list of targets, over an article about the late Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  2. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  3. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas
  4. Merkel urges EU unity to hold off economic fallout and populism
  5. The opportunistic peace
  6. EU mulls new system to check illegal pushbacks of migrants
  7. EU forecasts deeper recession, amid recovery funds row
  8. Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us