Solana/NATO Decision on access to documents

European Parliament to decide whether to take the Council to court

The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) will decide at its meeting on 13 September whether to recommend that the parliament takes legal action against the Council of the European Union over its decision to change the code of access to documents.

When MEPs returned from their holidays on Monday 28 August they found that the Council of the European Union had radically changed the Decision on public access to documents which had been in place since December 1993. On 26 July, during the week MEPs started their holidays, COREPER (the Permanent representatives of EU governments based in Brussels) agreed by 11-4 votes to change to code of access to meet the demands of NATO and the US to permanently excluded whole categories of documents from access. The new Decision was rushed through by "written procedure" on 14 August and published in the Official Journal on 23 August (which meant it came into effect). See: Solana Decision

The issues was immediately taken up by the Legal Affairs and Internal Market Committee of the EP chaired by Ana Palacio on the initiative of Heidi Hautala, leader of the Green/EFA group, who is the Committee's rapporteur on the Commission's proposed Regulation. The EP is currently considering the Commission's proposal to meet the commitment in the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 255) to "enshrine" the citizens' right of access to EU documents. The Green/EFA group of MEPs issued a press statement on 31 August calling for legal action to be taken: Heidi Hautala press statement

After the first meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee Ana Palacio wrote to the President of the European Parliament, Madam Fontaine, saying that the Committee would be holding a special meeting on 4 September in Strasbourg (during the plenary session) to consider its position. She told the President of the EP that the Committee would be hearing the opinion on the parliament's legal service on the question of whether the Council's decisions had breached the prerogatives of the Parliament: Ana Palacio's letter

The special meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee decided, having heard the legal advice that at its next meeting on Wednesday 13 September it would vote on a resolution to call on the parliament to prepare a legal action against the Council in the European Court of Justice.

Committee for Citizens' Freedoms and Rights

The first scheduled meeting of the Committee for Citizens' Freedoms and Rights was on Monday 28 August, the day parliament started work again. On the agenda was the Committee's first consideration of its position on the Commission's proposal new code of access. The Committee's rapporteur on the issue is Michael Cashman. His report, dated 3 August, was heavily criticised by the Green and ELDR (Liberal) MEPs because it had simply, and unquestioningly, incorporated the Solana/NATO Decision by the Council. Similarly the draft report on the issue by Hanja Maij-Weggen (PPE, Conservative) the rapporteur for the EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee implicitly accepted the Solana/NATO Decision. Both Michael Cashman and Hanja Maij-Weggen are said to be "revising" their draft reports before the scheduled working seminar to be held in the parliament on Monday 18 September on: "Access to documents of the EU institutions: the Key to a more democratic and efficient Union".

Following the meeting of the Committee its Chair, Graham Watson (ELDR), wrote to Madame Fontaine requested that in order to "defend the prerogatives of the European Parliament" the Solana Decision should be referred to the Legal Affairs Committee to examine the possibility of legal action: Graham Watson's letter

The EP's position on the Commission proposal

The lead committee on the Commission's proposed new measure on access to documents is the Citizens' Freedoms and Rights Committee (rapporteur: Michael Cashman, PSE). Four other committees will adopt opinions to put into the lead committee - which has to take account of their views before adopting a final report to go the the EP's plenary session. The other committees are: Constitutional Affairs (rapporteur: Johanna Maij-Weggen, PPE), Legal Affairs (rapporteur: Heidi Hautala, Green/EFA), Budgetary Control (rapporteur: Diemut R. Theato, PPE), Culture (rapporteur: Mr Andreasen, ELDR), Foreign Affairs (rapporteur: Cecilia Malmstrom, ELDR) and Petitions (rapporteur: Astrid Thors, ELDR).

Michael Cashman and Johanna Maij-Weggen are "revising" their draft reports. Heidi Hautala's draft report is a reflection of all the discussions over the past few years and is aimed at ensuring the the right of access to documents is "enshrined" in EU community law: Hautala report

Background material/MEPs' draft reports: Statewatch's Observatory on access to EU documents

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