EU institutions to meet to try and agree "compromise" on the new code of access to documents

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The EU institutions - the Council (the 15 EU governments), the European Commission and the European Parliament - are to holds a series of "trilogue" meetings to try and resolve the substantial differences between their drafts of the new code of access to EU documents. The new code of access is to give effect to Article 255 of the Treaty establishing the European Communities (TEC) agreed in Amsterdam in June 1997. The deadline set by the Treaty is 1 May 2001.

The planned timetable reads as follows:

24 January: First "trilogue" between: the rapporteurs from the European Parliament, the Presidents of the two parliamentary committees most concerned (Watson/Napolitano), the Swedish Presidency of the Council, Ambassador Lund, and other representatives of the Council and representatives of the Commission. The Presidency of the Council will present the state of play on work in the Council on the new code and highlight the points on which there are divergences between the institutions and points on which a "compromise" may be agreed.

25 January: the COREPER meeting (the permanent representatives of EU governments based in Brussels) will be informed of the result of the meeting on 24 January. The agenda for this meeting of COREPER II has only one item on its agenda which is to be held in a "restricted session", it is agenda item no 33 on : "Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (article 255) = Report from discussion on 24 January between representatives from the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission" - all the officials except the permanent representatives have to leave the meeting.

6 February: 2nd "trilogue" meeting with a debate, with texts, on points of "compromise" and alternative wordings.

7 February: COREPER informed of the results of the meeting on 6 February.

14 February: possible 3rd "trilogue" compromised just of the Presidents of the three institutions.

26-27 February: possible adoption of common position by the Council at the meeting of the General Affairs Committee.

27 February: Vote in the lead Committee on Citizens Freedoms and Rights in the European Parliament on "compromise amendments".

28 February (or 13 March): vote in the plenary session of the European Parliament on an amended report containing the "compromise" text and on the legislative resolution (delayed from the plenary in November 2000).

The timetable leaves little time between the 3rd "trilogue", on 14 February, and the adoption of a "compromise" text by the European Parliament committee, on 27 February, for civil society to make its views known.

Is "compromise" possible?

There are fundamental differences between the draft codes on the table from the three institutions.

To take just one example, the definition of a "document". Under the existing code of access to documents (in place since December 1993) a "document" is defined as:

"any written text, whatever its medium, which contains existing data and is held by the Council or Commission."

The current code thus says that any documents is accessible to citizens subject only the the "exceptions" laid down - where the institution has to justify for each and every document the grounds for refusing access.

The European Commission in its draft says a "document" everything but:

"excluding texts for internal use such as discussion documents, opinions of departments and excluding informal messages" (emphasis added)

The European Parliament report says:

" "document" shall not mean informal information in the form of written messages designed to enable personal opinions to be given or ideas to be freely exchanged ("brainstorming") within institutions."(emphasis added)

Under "Justification" the parliament report says: "Consistent with current practice, "internal documents" should not be excluded from the scope of the Regulation".


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