1999-2007: Secret Europe: reporting on secrecy and openness in Europe

Statewatch has reported on openness, secrecy and access to documents in the European Union since 1992. Statewatch has lodged eight successful complaints with the European Ombudsman against the Council of the European Union over access to documents.

Statewatch has won two awards for its work on openness in the EU from: the Campaign for Freedom of Information, the European Information Association and in December 2001 Statewatch's editor, Tony Bunyan, was selected by the European Voice newspaper as one of the 50 most influential people in the EU (EV50) for our work on openness. It nows run one of the most comprehensive site on these issues in the EU.

News on openness and secrecy is carried on this page and in addition Statewatch maintains three "Observatories":

  1. Freedom of Information in the EU carries all the keys texts and background documents
  2. Observatory on Freedom of Information in the EU - Case law covers all cases in the European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance with full-text of decisions
  3. Observatory on the adoption of the new Regulation on access to EU documents carries all the reports and documents produced by the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament during the discussions and adoption of the Regulation on access to EU documents (1049/2001).

Secrecy and Openness in the European Union by Tony Bunyan - online book detailing the history of access to documents in the EU, complaints to the European Ombudsman and the Court of Justice, and the struggles by civil society to get proper freedom of information

"Essays for an Open Europe": Essays "Call for an Open Europe": Sign up  

EUROPEAN OMBUDSMAN: Statewatch wins complaint against the European Commission (full-story and documentation) The European Ombudsman has declared a case of maladministration against Commission for its failure to produce a 2005 annual report on access to documents in 2006 and found it "especially deplorable" as these reports are "a key mechanism for accountability".

The European Ombudsman's Decision says that:

"In the Ombudsman’s view, the reasons given by the Commission to explain its failure, which refer to administrative and organisational constraints, do not show that there was an objective impossibility for the Commission to comply with its legal obligation (ultra posse nemo obligatur)" and

"The Ombudsman considers that the instance of maladministration revealed by the present inquiry is especially deplorable since the publication of reports is a key mechanism of accountability to, and communication with, European citizens. The Commission should set a good example to the many new Community Agencies which have recently been established by giving high priority in future to the timely publication of reports."

This is the first of two complaints lodged by Statewatch against the Commission. Previously Statewatch won eight complaints taken to the European Ombudsman against the Council of the European Union.

European Court of Justice: Court of First Instance: Council v WWF: The Council wins again, this time in defending its decision not to release a paper concerning the WTO and the environment. Again the application of the more detailed criteria for the application of the 'international relations' exception (as set out in the Kuijer II judgment) are ignored. Also, this is the first case which concerned the application of the exception for the EC's 'economic interests, etc.'. This exception is very broadly applied -- it seems that it is sufficient for a document to concern the EC's external trade for the exception to apply. Finally the CFI clearly distinguishes between access to information and access to documents -- clearly undercutting the argument that there is no distinction between the two (para 76 of the judgment). Judgment - full text (pdf)

EU: Statewatch lodges two complaints against the European Commission with the European Ombudsman (press release, full-text, pdf - EMBARGOED until 12.00 on Thursday 19 April 2007)

- the Commission has failed to maintain a proper public register of documents with only a fraction of those produced listed
- the Commission failed to produce its annual report on access to documents for 2005 in the year 2006
- Statewatch says both are breaches of the Regulation and therefore cases of maladministration

Tony Bunyan, Director of Statewatch, comments:

“The European Commission is not above the law it is the custodian of EU law, responsible for ensuring it is properly implemented. This makes it all the more reprehensible that under the Regulation on access to documents the Commission has failed to maintain a proper register of documents and failed to publish an annual report for 2005.

Open, transparent and accountable decision-making is the essence of any democratic system. Secrecy is its enemy and produces distrust, cynicism and apathy among citizens and closed minds among policy makers.

The European Commission must be called to account for its actions or rather its failures to act”

Also going out today for immediate release are:

  1. Statewatch Briefing Note on the Commission's Green Paper on the Regulation on access to EU documents:
    2. The full-text of the Commission's Green Paper (penultimate version):
    3. Statewatch's Observatory on "FOI in the EU" has been re-designed and updated with many new features

Statewatch - Reporting on openness and secrecy in the EU since 1992

EU: European Citizens Action Service, Statewatch, International Federation of Journalists, European Environmental Bureau : Should there be an EU Freedom of Information Act? (pdf) Seminar, Brussels, Thursday 19 April 2007

EU: European Court of Justice rejects Sison appeal against denial of access to EU documents (Judgment in case C-266/05 P, 1.2.07, pdf). The European Court of Justice has rejected Professor Jose Maria Sison's appeal against the EU Council's decision to refuse access to the documents relating to his inclusion on the terrorist list. For full background see Statewatch's "terror lists" observatory

Statewatch's Observatory on EU Freedom of Information - Case Law now has a list and summaries of "Pending cases" in the Court of First Instance/European Court of Justice. As at the end of September there were 25 cases pending. Pending cases list

EU-NATO: Classified information:

  1. a) Exchange of EU classified information (EUCI) with third countries and organisations (8 September 2006)

    b) EU: Council Decision adopting the Council's security regulations (28 February 2001)

    c) NATO: Security within NATO (17 June 2002) Thanks to FOI Advocates Network

EU: European Court of Justice: The Opinion on the Advocate-General in the case of Professor Sison (pdf) who is appealing to get access to the documents leading to him being placed on the EU terrorist list. The Advocate-General rejects his case.

Freedom of Information: The Manchester Declaration (pdf) Civil Society Organisations meeting in Manchester on the occasion of the 4th International Conference of Information Commissioners agreed this Declaration. It is signed by 28 NGOs.

EU: Viewpoint by Tony Bunyan: More openness or just a drop in the ocean? The need for Freedom of Information in the EU

EU: European Ombudsman issues critical report against the Council of the European Union which tried to hide documents from applicant: Press release (pdf) Full-text of decision (link). Having first denied the existence of more documents than admitted the Council claimed that due to a "clerical error" ten other documents not been located.

The right to know or the right to try and find out? The need for an EU freedom of information law, by Ben Hayes (pdf)

Spain: "Transparency and silence" report on freedom of information throws up alarming results

European Court of Justice (ECJ): For the first time since the Regulation on access to EU documents came into force in December 2001 an applicant has won a case in the ECJ against the Commission. The Court found that the Commission failed to examine and give reasons for each of the documents refused and failed to assess whether partial access could be given. This decision will help other applicants for documents as it is the Commission's habit to simply refuse documents requested by citing a general exception to access without giving reasons of how this applies to each document: ECJ Press release (pdf)

EU: A small victory for openness: The European Commission has finally made available a full list of its expert groups (2004) (pdf) and a list of "Joint entities resulting from international agreements" (2004) (pdf). Press release from Jens-Peter Bonde MEP

UK:Freedom of information - Parliament's Consitutional Affairs Committee. Concerns about the public sector’s readiness to comply with the new freedom of information law are today (7.12.04) raised in a report by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.The report, which provides a snapshot of public sector preparations, warns that with less than a month to go before some 100,000 public authorities are legally obliged to give the public a general right of access to information, preparedness for the new freedom of information (FoI) regime is patchy. 1) Press release 2) Full-text of report (pdf) 3) Full-text of the UK Freedom of Information Act (link) 4) Campaign for Freedom of Information (link)

EU openness: The EU's Court of First Instance has decided that governments can veto access to documents originating from them and submitted to an EU institution (in this case the European Commission). Interestingly the applicant was supported by the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, while the Commission - in its refusal to give access - was supported by the UK. The Court's judgement said: "the Commission was not required to explain why the Federal Republic of Germany had made a request under Article 4(5) of the Regulation, since there is no obligation on the Member States to state the reasons for such a request under that provision". Judgement (link) (1.12.04)

Statewatch Observatory on EU Freedom of Information - Case Law: Updated (25.11.04)

(19.11.04) Council agrees levels of security co-operation with third States and international organisations (14400/04)

European Court of Justice - EU "terrorist" list: Professor Sison case on access to documents goes to court

BUDVA DECLARATION: Declaration of Regional Seminar on Freedom of Information Budva, Montenegro, 9-10 September 2004. Participants in the Budva Regional Seminar on Freedom of Information discussed international standards for the right of access to information, in particular the legitimate exemptions to the release of information. The challenges of implementation of FOI laws were also discussed, including the need for training, awareness raising, litigation: Budva Declaration (pdf)

Denmark: Breakthrough in access to agricultural EU subsidies information: Denmark (link)

UNESCO have published a: "Comparative legal survey on Freedom of information": UNESCO Survey (pdf)

European Court of Justice: Access to documents decision against the European Commission and the Council of the European Union: Press release

Building the new security regime - the EU-NATO-USA politico-military axis: EU agrees to exchange of classified documents on "crisis operations" including justice and home affairs issues: Report and documentation

EU annual reports on access to documents - still a very long way to go: Report

- less than 50% of Council documents available to citizens
- European Commission's register of documents "a disgrace"
- speech by Tony Bunyan to the European Parliament

"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?"

EU cements deal with NATO on exchange of documents: Report

 European Parliament: Public Hearing: EU transparency - access to documents: does it work? Programme

Transparency in the European Union still problematic: Report

Statewatch openness case leads to landmark decision - Council agrees to keep copies of all documents and to list them in "Outcomes" (Minutes): Report

European Journalists support Irish fight to maintain open government: Report

Irish Council for Civil Liberties condemn government changes to freedom of information law: Report (link)

On 12 February 2003 the Swiss Federal Council (government) submitted a draft for a new law on freedom of information to parliament. The text of the draft is available on:

http://www.ofj.admin.ch/themen/oeffprinzip/bot-d.pdf (german)
http://www.ofj.admin.ch/themen/oeffprinzip/bot-f.pdf (french)

European Ombudsman: Council tells student that legal opinion on openness should stay secret: Report

 Mystery document appears on EU Council register: Report

 "Secrecy and Openness in the European Union" by Tony Bunyan - a new case study from freedominfo.org: Press release

European Ombudsman calls on Commission to clarify data protection rules: Report

Denied EU document reveals issues of public interest: document refused on grounds it concerned the "campaign against terrorism" contains further far-reaching proposals on surveillance, particularly of immigrants, including: "preventive information gathering": Report

European Ombudsman's Annual Report: Report  Sections on Statewatch's cases against the Council of the European Union (the 15 governments) on access to documents: Statewatch (pdf)

European Ombudsman: EU Commission secrecy around Transatlantic Business Dialogue is "Maladministration": Report (updated 18.7.02)

26 July 2000 - the day of the infamous "Solana Decision"- how did Mr Solana reply to a letter he had not received? Report

Statewatch complaints against the Council on access to documents goes before the European Parliament: Report

Very interesting site with lots of data on freedom of information in EU states:link

26 July 2000 - the day of the infamous "Solana Decision" - the Solana/Robertson exchange of letters: Report

European Ombudsman publishes code on administrative behaviour: Report

Council of the European Union disagrees on giving access to the public of positions taken by EU governments: Report

US government vetoes Statewatch access to EU-US agendas: Report
- Council of European Union says it has no choice but to back US veto
- Refusal of access follows two successful complaints to the European Ombudsman
- Decision would exclude from access any document on international policy vetoed by third parties

New EU Regulation on access to documents: Report
- the first major problem is going to be what will, and what not, be on the public registers of documents
- the second will be the exclusion of "internal documents"
- the third will be the right of "third parties" (like the US) to veto access to EU documents

European Ombudsman calls on the European Parliament to take action on the Council's failure to release documents to Statewatch: Report (5.12.01)

European Commission publishes new security rules before its rules on the public's right of access to its documents: Report

The new Regulation of public access to EU documents comes into operation on 3 December 2001
1.The new Regulation (1049/2001) on access to documents (pdf file)
2. Council's new Rules of Procedure (adopted 29 November)
3. European Parliament report amending its rules of procedure (adopted 13 November)

The UK House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has produced a report on the "Solana Decision" of July 2000: House of Lords report

European Parliament takes Council to court for failure to consult over new (NATO) classification code - the "Solana Two Decision":Report  Full-text: EU/NATO: Security Regulations (Word 97) Security Regulations (pdf)

Statewatch wins new complaints against the Council of the European Union: European Ombudsman decides access must be given to the agendas of the EU-US Senior Level Group and the EU-US Task Force: Decision

Statewatch launches Freedom of Information in the EU site with all the background news and documents on access to documents plus a new Observatory on case law: FOI

EU openness: Heidi Hautala MEP claims victory in secrecy court case: Opinion of the Advocate General

The first seminar on the new Regulation on access to EU documents is being organised by the Academy of European Law in Trier, Germany and Statewatch: Seminar

Final version of the new EU code of access to documents: Netherlands court case withdrawn & European Parliament negotiating over access to classified documents: New Regulation

Final "compromise" text adopted by the European Parliament (3.5.01) and the Council of the European Union (14.5.01): Full-text

Postcript to the vote on the new code of access to EU documents - "Call for an Open Europe" to continue: Postcript updated 16.5.01

European Parliament votes in favour of "deal" with the Council on access to EU documents - campaign for an open and democratic Europe to continue: EP vote

Leading civil society groups send "Open letter" to all MEPs asking them to reject the "deal" on access to EU documents on 3 May: "Open letter"

"Call for an Open Europe": over two hundred sign up
Support for openness: from 72 individuals and organisations across the EU

Full-text of Commission's original proposal and the amendments to it by the European Parliament (to be discussed on 2-3 May) which represents, when combined, the proposed new Regulation on public access to EU documents: Observatory

 "Brussels stitch-up" agreed
- Council, Commission and EP Committee agree "compromise/common text"
- Civil society groups reject "deal" between Council and European Parliament

Press release: "OPEN LETTER from civil society on the new code of access to documents of the EU institutions" (23.4.01)

New code on access to EU documents: "Brussels stitch-up" on the cards Updated 23 April

- Council and EP rapporteurs agree "common text"
- Civil society groups reject "deal" between Council and European Parliament

New Council draft code undermines current rights of access: New draft

European Federation of Journalists call for an end to secret negotiations and a "fresh start" on the new code of access to EU documents: "Fresh start"

Validity of secret "trilogue" meetings over new code of access to EU documents thrown into question: Report

Council Decisions: 1) gives EU member states a "veto" over access to documents 2) new Solana classification code will "contaminate" access: Decisions

 Hautala v. Council: Partial access to documents: News online

Statewatch wins two new complaints: European Ombudsman decision breaches "space to think": European Ombudsman

"UK parliament report slams the "Solana Decision" on access to EU documents: Report

"Trilogue" talks start again - call by civil society groups for an end to secret negotiations: Trilogue II

Article by Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, in European Voice: No freedom of information in the EU

"Trilogue" discussions collapse with no agreement - 1st May deadline will not be met: Trilogue

Seminar on access to EU documents, 27 February, Brussels: Seminar

ECAS press release on new code of access: EU transparency in muddied waters

New draft shows how far the EU is from real freedom of information: New draft

EU institutions to hold "trilogue" meetings to try and sort a "compromise" on their different versions of the new code of access: trilogue (news, 22.1.01)

The European Federation of Journalists and Statewatch have launched a "Call for an Open Europe" on access to EU documents which includes "Our code", a code of access to documents for civil society: "Call"

New draft (dated 18.12.00) of Council's common position leaves the incoming Swedish Presidency with a difficult job: New draft

Chair of EP Committee attacks Council's draft common position on access: Watson letter

"Solana Decision" extended to cover justice and home affairs, trade and aid: "Solana Two Decision"

Survey shows which EU governments back openness, which do not: Openness survey (29.11.00)

Statewatch News online: "Solana Decision" back on the agenda (27.11.00)

European Parliament "has ignored civil society" plus full-text of the report adopted: Report

European Federation of Journalists publishes "Essays for an Open Europe", which argue that civil society needs to join in the debate on access to EU documents: Essays

UK House of Commons Select Committee on European Scrutiny report on access to EU documents: Report (21.11.00)

European Parliament adopt report on access to EU documents - but what happened to citizens' rights?: EP vote, where now?

 European Parliament to vote on report on access to documents on Thursday. Full list of amendments, voting list and analysis: EP vote

European Parliament report on access to EU documents in need of radical amendment - parliament to adopt first reading position on Thursday in Strasbourg: Report, critique and documents

Reports on EU access to documents carried on Statewatch News online - please check this page for the latest news:

The European Parliament has formally decided to take the Council of the European Union to court over the "Solana Decision": Green/EFA press release Council offer deal to head off court action by EP: Compromise
A detailed analysis by Statewatch shows that the European Commission and the Council want less access to documents than at present: Analysis
Germany and France lead fight for more secrecy by EU governments and UK sits on the fence - Council's position on access to documents even worse than the Commission's: Council

Sweden Swedish government decided (28.9.00) to back Netherlands court case
Finland : the Finnish government to back the Netherlands in their court case
Netherlands to take EU to court the Netherlands government decides (22.9.00) to take the Council of the European Union to court over the "Solana Decision"
EP Court action The European Parliament votes to take to take the Council to court over the "Solana/NATO Decision
Press release: Green/EFA group in EP
Opinion "Opinion" article in the Irish Times (23.9.00)
NATO letter Snub to European Parliament reveals more NATO demands
MEPs demand action EP decision with full-text documents

Solana's coup imposes EU security state: EU governments adopt the "NATO/Solana" amendments to the Decision on public access to documents (14.8.00) and it came into effect on 23 August:
Text of the Decision 
Analysis The 1993 Decision as now amended by the Decision of 14 August 2000
Classified documents  Council Decision of 19 December 1999 overturned

International Federation of Journalists: "Journalists condemn "Summertime Coup": IFJ 
The UK parliament issues critical report on Commission's proposal: Report

Background document to "Solana Decision" released: Council Security Plan

  EP's position on access: 1st reading report  Statewatch proposed amendments to it

Analysis of the Commission and Council's position on new code of access to EU documents which shows that both institutions want more secrecy and less access than at present: Analysis

Text of speech by Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, to the "hearing" in the European Parliament on 18 September 2000 on the new measure on public access to EU documents:  Talk

Netherlands to take Council to court over "Solana Decision" Netherlands MEPs demand action on "Solana/NATO" Decision, calls for the European Parliament to take the Council to court: EP to take legal action?

Amendments to the 1993 Decision on public access to documents agreed by "written procedure" on 14 August in advance of the Amsterdam Treaty measure: see Statewatch News online: New access decision For background to the Decision see: Solana coup

The Commission has circulated a revised version of its proposal for public access to documents which contains a significant change from the original: Revised Commission proposal  22.2.00


 Statewatch has taken two new complaints to against the EU Council of Ministers over access to documents to the European Ombudsman: Press Release  10.7.00


  Statewatch's suggested amendments to the Commission's proposal on the public's right of access to EU documents: Amendments

 Online debate organised by Die Zeit between Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, and Mary Preston, of the European Commission, on the proposed regulation on public access to EU documents: The debate

 The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents 135 environmental citizens organisations, has prepared a critique of the Commission's proposal, see: EEB

 The "debate" between Mr Soderman and Mr Prodi: Mr Soderman/Mr Prodi


 Regulation of public access to documents adopted by the Commission on 26 January: Commission proposal for a regulation on public access to documents

 Second draft of Commission's Regulation leaked to Statewatch: 29.11.99

  First draft of Commission's Regulation: 22.10.99.


 The two drafts of the Commission's unpublished "communication", dated 22.1.99 and 23.4.99


  The current Codes governing access to documents were adopted in December 1993. Their operation has been greatly improved by challenges in the Court of Justice and complaints to the European Ombudsman by NGOs, MEPs, journalists and academics:

 The Code used by the Commission: Commission code

 The Code used by the Council: Council code

 Statement by the European Federation of Journalists on the proposed regulation: EFJ

 Statewatch analysis of the proposed measure: Statewatch analysis

Openness (access to documents) and transparency (an open and understandable decision-making process) are basic, essential, democratic standards. Secrecy and hidden decision-making undermine democracy. Nowhere are these standards more important than in the field of justice and home affairs where the decisions of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers and its working parties effect the rights of citizens, refugees and asylum-seekers. For this reason Statewatch has worked to extend access to documents and successfully lodged eight complaints with the European Ombudsman against the Council of the European Union over access to documents on justice and home affairs in 1996. As a result of these complaints the right of citizens to appeal to the Ombudsman over access to justice and home affairs documents was written into the Amsterdam Treaty.

Secrecy and Openness in the European Union

An "online book" on the history and struggle for freedom of information in the EU. Hundreds of links document the roles played by the EU institutions, the member states and, crucially, civil society.

Read more


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