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Statewatch takes two new complaints against the Council over access to documents to the European Ombudsman
01 July 2000
At a press conference held in the European Parliament in Brussels 11 July 2000 Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan launched two new complaints with the European Ombudsman concerning the Council of the European Union's (the 15 EU governments) failure to give access to documents and to provide information. The press conference speakers were Heidi Hautala MEP, President of the Green/EFA Group, Glyn Ford MEP (Socialist, PSE), Graham Watson MEP (ELDR, chair of the Citizens' Freedoms and Rights Committee and Renate Schröder (European Federation of Journalists).
The first is a case which Statewatch has already successfully taken to the European Ombudsman but which the Council then tried to get round by pretending that the General Secretariat of the Council is a separate institution to the Council of the European Union. The documents in question are the agendas of the meetings of the "Senior Level Group" and the "EU-US Task Force" set up under the Transatlantic Agenda.
The second concerns the Council's failure to supply a full list of documents for a series of justice and home affairs working parties. This complaint draws attention to the Council's policy excluding certain documents, for example, SN documents (sans numero), meeting documents and room documents, from the agendas, outcome of proceedings and from the public register of EU documents.
Tony Bunyan commented:
"The first of these cases tackles access to documents where EU officials meet with non-EU states and organisations, in this case EU-US meetings. It cannot be right that the external relations of the EU in justice and home affairs, which can directly affect human rights and civil liberties, are excluded from public scrutiny.
The second, concerns the deliberate policy of the Council to exclude from public access categories of documents which form part of the decision-making process. They are not even on the Council's public register of documents.
Effective public access to documents is one of the cornerstones of any democratic system, it ensures that the executive is made accountable not just to parliaments but also to the citizens. It ensures that civil society can inform itself, debate the issues and make its views known.
The European Parliament is now considering the new measure on access to documents put forward by the Commission. It is essential this leads to a real step forward and not - as some in the Council and Commission would like - be used to hide whole categories of documents from access and public view."
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For further information contact: Statewatch office: 00 44 208 802 1882
NOTES for EDITORS:
1. Case 1: The New Transatlantic Agenda (NTA) and the Joint EU-US Action Plan signed by the European Union and the United States in Madrid on 3 December 1995 contained substantial proposals for cooperation on justice and home affairs issues.
2. Tony Bunyan has been editor of Statewatch bulletin since its launch in 1991 and is the author of "Secrecy and openness in the European Union" (Kogan Page, November 1999). On behalf of Statewatch he lodged six successful complaints with the European Ombudsman in 1996 - as a result of these cases the right of citizens to take complaints to the European Ombudsman on access to documents covering justice and home affairs was written into the Amsterdam Treaty.
3. In 1998 Statewatch received an award from the Campaign for Freedom of Information for its work on access to EU documents.
In 1999 Statewatch received a "Champions of Privacy" award from Privacy International for its work exposing the EU-FBI telecommunications surveillance system.
4. Statewatch is a voluntary group founded in 1991 covering justice and home affairs and civil liberties in the European Union. It is comprised of journalists, academics, researchers, lawyers and community activists. Its network of contributors cover 12 European countries.
5. Statewatch's "Secret Europe" website contains all the background material on