European Parliament report on access to EU documents in need of radical amendment

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The European Parliament (EP) is due to adopted a report on the public's right of access to EU documents at its plenary session in Strasbourg on Thursday morning (16 November). Before the parliament will be a report prepared by Michael Cashman (PSE) and Hanja Maij-Weggen (PPE). The adopted report will form the parliament's first reading position on a new code of access to EU documents.

This report comes in response to the Commission's proposed new code of access put forward in January. Under the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 255) the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments), the European Commission and the European Parliament have to agree (under the co-decision procedure) a new code of access by May next year.

The Commission's proposal would represent a major step backwards, giving even less access to documents than under the present practice (based on the 1993 code as amended by the Court of Justice and decisions by the European Ombudsman). The Council's draft Common Position is even worse than the draft put forward the the Commission. The position taken by the European Parliament is therefore of great importance.

For civil society the issue is whether the EP's report would ensure increased rights of access, as intended by the commitment in the Amsterdam Treaty, or less access and more secrecy. Although there are several good proposals in the current EP report it is confused in parts (such as trying to give more "rights" to EU institutions) and has a number of retrogressive ideas (such as agreeing to give officials the so-called "space to think", allowing Member states and non-EU bodies to hand over "public", sanitised, documents and suggesting a catch-all exception covering "military matters" - which opens the door for the reintroduction of the "Solana Decision").

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The report going before the European Parliament on Thursday needs to be radically amended if it is to meet the objective of "enshrining" the EU citizens' right of access to EU documents.

All the provisions on giving "rights" to the three institutions (Council, Commission and EP) have no place in a new code of access, and should be removed. The intention of the Amsterdam Treaty was to give citizens and civil society cast-iron and enforceable rights of access to documents, not to increase secrecy by giving more "rights" to the institutions.

As it stands this report will make a few steps forward but even more steps backward compared to the current rights of access to documents for citizens."s

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