European Ombudsman calls on the European Parliament to take action on the Council's failure to release documents to Statewatch
The European Ombudsman, Mr Jacob Soderman, has sent a Special Report to the European Parliament calling on it to intervene in order to get the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) to obey the Ombudsman findings that documents should be given to Statewatch.
Statewatch lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman concerning the Council failure to respond to requests for documents and information in July 2000. The first was a request to the Council for access to all the documents considered at a meeting of the Police Cooperation Working Party (Experts' meeting - Interception of Telecommunications) on 3-4 September 1998 - this concerned the discussion over a document, ENFOPOL 98, to extend telecommunications surveillance to cover e-mails and mobile phones. The Council tried to deny the existence of six documents listed in the "Outcome of proceedings" (the minutes) of the meeting. The documents were referred to as "Meeting documents 1-6".
Statewatch's complaint noted that the Council issued the following instruction when its public register of documents went online on 1 January 1999:
"Confidential, Restreint, SN and non-paper documents will not be included in the public register. For this reason, from now on these documents will not be mentioned in official Council documents (in particular: on provisional agendas and in outcomes of proceedings)."
The second aspect of the complaint concerns Statewatch's request for a list of the documents considered at a series of meetings in January 1999 including any documents not listed on the agenda or in the "Outcome of proceedings" such as "Room documents, non-papers, meetings documents, SN documents". Statewatch argued that, under the Code of Good Administrative Behaviour, citizens were entitled to have a list of all the documents considered so that they could see which views/positions were accepted and which were rejected. The Council failed to supply the lists.
The Ombudsman found that "the Council's failure to maintain a list or register of all documents put before the Council.. constituted maladministration and made a Recommendation to the Council. The Council responded by saying it accepted this Recommendation but the Ombudsman's Special Report concludes that its response:
"raise doubts as to whether the draft recommendations will indeed be implemented"
The Ombudsman view is that the "Council should establish such a list and make it available to citizens. This is vital so that citizens can use their right of access to documents properly". The report concludes that under the new Regulation on access to documents, which came into operation on 3 December the Council is obliged to place all documents on the public register.
This was the eighth successful complaint that Statewatch has lodged against the Council on access to EU documents.
This is only the sixth Special Reports that the European Ombudsman has made to the European Parliament and is the strongest power available to him - it usually follows the failure of one of the institutions to respond positively to his Recommendations to change their practices.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, commented:
"The European Ombudsman has again backed the cause of openness and access to documents in the EU. He has also laid down a marker that the registers which the Council, Commission and European Parliament have to make operational by 3 June 2002 have to contain information on all the documents considered at all levels of the decision-making process and the implementation of measures"
Full-text of the European Ombudsman's press release: Text (html) Text (Word 97)
Full-text of the European Ombudsman's Special Report to the European Parliament: Report (pdf) Report (Word 97) Report (html)
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