EU annual reports on access to documents


The first annual reports of the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) and
the European Commission on access to documents (under Regulation 1049/2001) have
been produced: 1) Report from Commission (pdf) and 2) Report from the Council
(pdf)

On 12 June Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, spoke at the public hearing held in the
European Parliament on: EU transparency - access to documents: does it work? He
spoke in the session on EU institutions in response to contributions from the Council of the
European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European
Parliament. He was asked to comment on their contributions and this is the text of the
speech:

"It is ten years since the Code on access to Council and Commission documents was
introduced in 1993 and it is six years since Article 255 in the Amsterdam Treaty
allegedly "enshrined" the citizens' right of access. Yet even now less than 50% of the
contents of documents on the Council's public register have been released and the
Commission's public register is absolutely useless. How much longer are we going to
have to wait for freedom of information in the EU?"

Introduction

"By way of introduction it is important to acknowledge the role of civil society in bringing
about openness in the European Union. Without the challenges to secrecy by civil society
made to the European Ombudsman and to the Court of Justice there would have been no
Article 255 in the Amsterdam Treaty (the Article was intended to "enshrine" the citizens'
right of access).

It was the coalition of civil society groups - the European Federation of Journalists, the
European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), the
Standing Committee of experts in Utrecht and Statewatch - who were highly critical of
Regulation 1049/2001 adopted by the EU institutions. Indeed when looking back at our list
of criticisms many of the problems that citizens now face are the result of the institutions'
failure to respond to them.

1. The European Commission's annual report

To start I want to look at the Report from the European Commission (COM (2003) 216,
29.4.03) particularly because by January 2004 the Commission has to publish a report on
possible revision and changes to the Regulation.

The main complaint against the Commission is its public register (under Article 11 of
1049/2001). Article 11 of the Regulation says that each institution must provide:

"public access to a register of documents" and that:

"References to documents shall be recorded in the register without delay"

The clear implication of the second provision is that references to all documents should be
put onto the register as they are produced.

Article 12 deals with "Direct access" to the documents themselves and says, in Art 12.2,
that "in particular" direct access should be given to legislative documents and (Art 12.3)
"where possible" to other documents.

The Commission has, as we warned, has interpreted the obligation to provide a public
register by solely covering legislative documents (COM and SEC documents). It argues
erroneously on page 6 para 5 of its report that the Regulation:

"gives priority to legislative documents"

The Regulation does not say this, it only says this in relation to "direct access" - it does not
say this for references to documents on the register.

It is quite extraordinary that the Commission does not feel bound by Article 11 of the
Regulation and states blandly that:

"The Commission intends to gradually increase t

 

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