25th Sep 2023


The man who won't stop filing info requests until every EU doc is public

  • EU diplomats crunch hundreds of pages of legal papers behind closed doors (Photo: European Parliament)
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EU Council officials should expect a flood of new requests for internal documents in the wake of a pro-transparency court ruling.

Emilio De Capitani, a former European Parliament official turned campaigner, filed his latest tranche of en-masse queries last week using the website, which is hosted by a Spanish NGO.

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  • Emilio De Capitani worked in the EU Parliament until 2011 (Photo:

His freedom-of-information (FOIs) queries are designed to drag into the public eye details of how EU diplomats haggle over new laws in the EU Council's 150 or so "working groups".

He aims to keep filing wave after wave to gather enough data to show how the EU-sausage machine really works.

This could include sensitive details of EU countries' national positions in talks, while final decisions are still taking shape.

"The aim is to follow each one of the 185 legislative procedures currently pending, asking information on a day-by-day basis," De Capitani told EUobserver.

If he gets what he wants, De Capitani aims to upload the files on a rolling basis in a public database that can be used by NGOs, media, and concerned citizens.

"It'll take time, but I'm convinced of the need to do this," he said.

If the EU Council refuses to release documents, as before, citing the need to protect its decision-making process, De Capitani aims to drag EU officials back into Europe's courts in Luxembourg, he said.

Third time lucky?

"If needed, there'll be a 'De Capitani 3'," he said, referring to two previous court victories in his years-long battle against EU obfuscation.

The 76-year old Italian lawyer started firing off his latest FOIs after the General Court of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of "greater openness" on 26 January in 'De Capitani 2'.

"It should be recalled that in a system based on the principle of democratic legitimacy, the co-legislators [of the EU] must answer for their actions to the public," the EU judges said.

De Capitani's lawsuit was backed by the relatively transparency-friendly administrations in Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, which holds the EU presidency for the next five months.

The EU Council "took note" of the ruling in statements to media at the time — a non-committal line, showing no indication if it will comply.

But for all the judges' pro-democratic rhetoric, the January verdict still gave EU officials discretion to "balance the particular interest to be protected by the non-disclosure of the document in question against the public interest in making the document available" when handling FOIs.

The EU Council doesn't even publish the titles of its working ("WK" in EU jargon) documents until weeks or months until the related law is a fait accompli.

The De Capitani 2 verdict last month also changed nothing about this practice.

Paper tiger?

And all this meant EU institutions were likely to continue treating the ECJ like a paper tiger, De Capitani warned.

The Italian lawyer also won an EU court ruling in 2018 saying the EU Parliament should publish documents in MEPs' so-called trilogue legislative talks with diplomats — 'De Capitani 1'.

But almost five years later, the EU Parliament still doesn't do it, in what De Capitani called a "sad confirmation" of prevailing attitudes in Brussels.

De Capitani worked in the EU Parliament until 2011, before turning to academia and activism.

He helped create the parliament's Legislative Observatory — a website designed to help EU citizens follow how laws are made.

He also spearheaded calls for all EU laws and decisions to be published online in a digital Official Journal.

He's now pulling together a petition by like-minded MEPs and NGOs, including Statewatch, Transparency International, and Access Info, to press the EU Parliament to publish its trilogue papers.

And his ultimate goal is full transparency, with momentum finally building for change, De Capitani said.

"In times of Qatargate, one can ask if playing negotiations behind closed doors is an efficient way of 'protecting' the co-legislator from external pressure," he said, referring to the Qatar and Morocco-linked bribery scandal in the EU Parliament, which exploded late last year.

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