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Europol adopts the Council's code of access to documents after inquiry by European Ombudsman
01 July 2000
After an own initiative inquiry by the European Ombudsman begun in April 1999 Europol has agreed to adopt the code of access to documents used by the Council of the European Union - the institution which created it as an international organisation (rather than an EU one).
Mr Soderman, the European Ombudsman, wrote to Europol on 30 April 1999 asking what plans they had to adopt a code of public access to documents. Mr Storbeck, the Director of Europol replied on 15 July 1999 expressing willingness to consider adopting rules of access to documents but that this would have to be agreed by the Europol Management Board. Europol became fully operational on 1 July 1999. Following another letter from the Ombudsman on 24 September 1999 Mr Storbeck replied, on 24 November 1999, saying that the Management Board had agreed that "rules on public access to documents should be established" and asked Europol to prepare proposals - but "contained no definite timetable for the adoption of rules".
On 13 December 1999 the Ombudsman sent the following draft recommendations to Europol asking for a response within three months:
"1. Europol should adopt rules concerning public access to documents within three months. The rules could be based on those already adopted by the Council, including the exceptions contained therein.
2. The rules should apply to all documents that are not already covered by existing legal provisions allowing access or requiring confidentiality;
3. The rules should be made easily available to the public."
On 7 March 2000 Europol replied that the Management Board has been unable to agree at its meeting on 22 February on the draft rules prepared by Europol staff. In reply the Ombudsman requested as detailed opinion by 31 May. On 16 June the Ombudsman sent a further reminder letter setting a new deadline of 31 July and that in the event of no reply or an unsatisfactory reply it would be necessary for the Ombudsman to make a Special Report to the European Parliament.
Finally, on 6 July, Europol told the Ombudsman:
"its Management Board wishes to resume discussions on the subject of public access to Europol documents once discussions on the recent proposals from the Commission have led to concrete new regulations for other European bodies. As an interim measure Europol will deal with requests for public access to Europol documents through the application by analogy of Council 93/731. The public will be informed of this through publication on Europol's web site at http://www.europol.eu.int
The Ombudsman closed the case on 12 July as Europol had accepted his recommendations and taken satisfactory steps.
Note: Early in 1999 Steve Peers (Essex University) and Statewatch editor, Tony Bunyan, requested copies of the agendas of the Management Board of Europol from the Council. These requests were turned down. The Council argued that these documents were not "held" by the Council as Europol was a separate institution, they wrote to Tony Bunyan:
"although Europol was set up by a Council act, the Europol Convention, it has a legal personality of its own, distinct from the Council."
Press release from the European Ombudsman, 19 July 2000
Decision of the European Ombudsman as regards Europol