Statewatch News online: Civil society groups oppose "deal" on access to EU documents

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All the civil society groups and leading academic commentators who have been working on the issue of access to EU documents for many years have come out against the planned "deal" between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Here is the text of a letter they are sending to all MEPs tomorrow (Tuesday, 24 April):

"OPEN LETTER from civil society on the new code of access to documents of the EU institutions"

to: Members of the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament


European Federation of Journalists
European Citizens Action Service (ECAS)
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Steve Peers, Reader in Law, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
Ulf Oberg, doctoral candidate on Public Access to Documents in European Law, Stockholm University
Deirdre Curtin, Professor of the Law of International Organisations, University of Utrecht, and a member of the Standing Committee of Experts in international immigration, refugee and criminal law (Utrecht)

"We are writing to you concerning the consideration at your meeting on 24-25 April of the report on the new code of access to documents. We consider the "common text" on the table is quite unacceptable on two broad grounds:

i) it undermines current rights under the 1993 Decision (prior to the Solana Decision of last summer) as interpreted by the ECJ and CFI.

ii) it does not reflect the "spirit" of the commitment taken in the Amsterdam Treaty (Article 255, TEC) to "enshrine" the citizens' right of access to EU documents. This commitment was to ensure that at the very least the 1993 Decision, and subsequent decisions by the courts and the Ombudsman was entrenched in binding legislation , and moreover to include new rights such as the establishment of public registers of all documents with direct access on the internet (subject only to Article 4.1). These dual results were to be undertaken in the spirit of the foundational article of the European Union, Article 1, namely that: "This Treaty makes a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union along the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible". This phrase clearly indicates that the very minimum which is "possible" is the status quo. Anything less that the status quo can be considered in breach of Article 255, read in the light of Article 1.

It is our view that it is a fundamental role for the European Parliament to protect existing rights of citizens and civil society on this issue and to extend them - the current "common text" does not do this.

Rather than "enshrining" the rights of citizens it undermines the current code and "enshrines" , for example, the rights of Member States and the infamous "Solana Decision" (albeit in a different form). The Council, in particular, has sought to use the new code to protects its own interests and now it appears the European Parliament may accept this view. The adoption of the "common text" on the new code of access to documents on the table would, in our view, represent a betrayal of the commitment given in the Amsterdam Treaty.

Unless the current "compromise" draft is amended in line with the amendments/deletions attached it is our fervent belief that attempts to agree a new code of access should be abandoned forthwith and that the Commission be invited to present a new draft proposal to meet the Amsterdam commitment."

Full text of civil society analysis of the report being considered on 25 April: Civil Society

For further information ring: 00 44 208 802 1882 (Statewatch)

Statewatch News online

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