New code on access to EU documents:
"Brussels stitch-up" agreed
- Council, Commission and EP Committee agree "compromise/common text"
- Civil society groups reject "deal" between Council and European Parliament
At today's (26 April) meeting of the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights all of the amendments put forward by Michael Cashman and Hanji Miaj-Weggen were steamrollered through, without any debate, by the PSE/PPE majority backed by the ELDR (Liberals) on the Committee. Only the Green/EFA, GUE and EDD groups voted against. The vote was 29 votes for 6 against.
The PSE/PPE amendments changed the report adopted by the parliament on 16 November to meet the demands of the Council (the 15 EU governments). These amendments were agreed through secret, "trilogue" meetings over the past five months. So keen were the PSE/PPE rapporteurs to get the agreement of the Council that a verbal amendment was allowed (according to which rule nobody knows) actually during the meeting - deleting the phrase
"according to national arrangements" further weakening the member states right to apply national law on freedom of information.
The only people allowed to speak at the meeting were Commissioner Barnier, who said the College of Commissioners agreed on the "compromise" this morning and Helena Jagerblom, from the Swedish Presidency. She contradicted the Chair of the Committee, Graham Watson, when he said the Council (at the meeting of COREPER, the permanent representatives of EU governments based in Brussels) had agreed the "compromise" by a qualified majority - the Council she said was unanimous in its support for the "common text".
This means that even those countries most opposed to openness, such as France, Spain and Germany, are happy with the "deal".
The amended report now has to be formally adopted by the European Parliament plenary session in Brussels on 3 May. Then the General Affairs Council, probably on 14-15 May, can accept the parliament's amendments to the proposal put forward by the Commission in January 2000.
The "deal" has been condemned by all the civil society groups and leading academic commentators as taking away existing rights and betraying the commitment given in the Amsterdam Treaty to "enshrine" the citizens' right of access to EU documents, see: Civil society "Open Letter"
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, commented:
"The Brussels-based EU institutions - the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament - have "stitched-up" this deal through secret negotiations instead of going through the proper co-decision process - where the position of each at each stage would be on the record and thus open to public debate.
The "stitch-up" is a betrayal of the commitment given to citizens under the Amsterdam Treaty and the way it was done is a disgrace to democratic standards. It will only increase the resolve of those who want an open, democratic and accountable Europe."
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