General Affairs Council, 14 May 2001 agrees the new code of access to EU documents

At its meeting on Monday 14 May the General Affairs Council adopted as a "A" Point (without debate) the "compromise" text agreed with the European Parliament on the new code of access to EU documents. The Council press release reads as follows:

"PUBLIC ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS

Proposal for a Regulation - Political agreement

The Council approved all the amendments of the European Parliament to the draft Regulation on public access to documents and reached political agreement on the content of the Regulation, thus amended, with a view to its formal adoption by the Council before the end of May, after finalisation of the text by the legal linguistic experts.
It is recalled that on 3 May, the European Parliament adopted the Cashman Report and the accompanying Legislative Resolution on the Proposal. The text adopted by the European Parliament at First Reading corresponds to the compromise package previously agreed between the representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

The purpose of this Regulation is to give the fullest possible effect to the right of public access to documents of these three institutions and to lay down the general principles of and limites to such access in accordance with Article 255(2) of the Treaty.

The new Regulation constitutes an important step towards more openness of the institutions and better accessibility of their documents. Compared with the present legislation on public access to documents, the main points on which substantive progress has been achieved are the following :

The new Regulation applies to all documents held by the institutions, that is to say, documents drawn up or received by them and in their possession (i.e. including documents originating from third parties), in all areas of activity of the European Union. It also applies to sensitive documents, which will receive special treatment.

The institutions are obliged to provide public access to a register of their documents; as far as possible, documents are to be made directly accessible via the Internet, in particular documents relating to legislative activities.

There are only a few mandatory exceptions to the right of public access, notably where disclosure of a document could undermine the public interest as regards public security, defence and military matters, international relations or the financial, monetary or economic policy or the privacy and integrity of individuals. Other exceptions - e.g. relating to the protection of commercial interests of natural or legal persons, court proceedings and legal advice, inspections, investigations and audits and the institution's decision-making process - apply only if there is no overriding public interest in disclosure.

It is explicitly stated that if only parts of the requested document are covered by an exception, the remaining parts of the document are to be released.

The time limit for replies by the institutions is shortened from one month to 15 working days.

Each institution will be obliged to publish annual reports on the application of the new Regulation; in addition, the Commission will issue a report in 2004 on the implementation of the Regulation and submit, where appropriate, proposals for its revision."



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