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European Parliament report on the right of access to EU documents - "has ignored civil society" (1)
01 November 2000
The full text of the report adopted by the European Parliament (EP) on the new code of access to documents (16.11.00) is provided below. The adoption of the legislative resolution by the parliament has been delayed until its plenary session in January - this is to see if there is any chance of the Council agreeing to the EP's report.
The Council (the EU governments) was due to adopt a "common position" on at the General Affairs Council on 20 November but this put back to the meeting on 4-5 December - if no decision is made at this meeting it may be put back again until 22-23 January 2001 under the Swedish Presidency of the EU.
The report adopted by the European Parliament fell well short of living up to expectations that the parliament would see its first duty to be ensuring new rights of access to EU documents for citizens and civil society. The fundamental criticisms of its report are:
1) neither the report, the explanatory report nor the presentation in the plenary session makes any reference whatsoever to the existing 1993 Decision on access to documents. There is no reference to how the current code works. Nor any reference to any of the cases taken to the European Court of Justice (John Carvel/Guardian, Swedish Union of Journalists, Heidi Hautala MEP) or the successful complaints taken to the European Ombudsman (Statewatch, Steve Peers) and how they greatly improved rights of access.
This failure is compounded by fact that the explanatory report says that the draft new measure put forward by the Commission in January represents current practice - which it does not. The rapporteurs (Michael Cashman, PSE and Hanji Maij-Weggen, PPE) presented their report as a major advance over the Commission draft as if it gave citizens new rights.
By failing to use the current practice as the standard for determining whether the draft new codes in circulation improve or diminish rights of access the European Parliament's report ignored the role of civil society over the past seven years.
2) The report was also presented as overturning the Solana Decision
on the exclusion of documents covering foreign policy, military and non-military crisis management. However, by extending the existing "exceptions" (grounds on which access to documents can be refused) to cover the all-embracing category of "military matters" the door has been left open for the "Solana Decision" to be re-introduced (albeit through a different formulation).
3) The report adopted by the parliament has used Article 255 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which was intended to "enshrine" the right of access to EU documents, to put forward more new rights for the institutions (Council, Commission and European Parliament) than for citizens and civil society, see: Statewatch amendments
To follow the EP vote researchers need to look at the following documents:
1. Full-text of report adopted by the European Parliament on the right of citizens access to EU documents: EP report
(pdf format, 548k) EP report
(zip file, 288k, opens as pdf file) EP report
2. Michael Cashman (PSE) and Hanja Maij-Weggen (PPE): Report, Part 1
2.a. Statewatch's proposed amendments to the report: Amendments
3. Michael Cashman (PSE) and Hanja Maij-Weggen (PPE): Explanatory Report, Part 2
3.a. Statewatch's commentary on the Explanatory Report: