Ombudsman criticises Council after Statewatch complaint on access to documents

The European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, published a special report, on 30 November, on the failure of the EU Council to grant access to certain documents on justice and home affairs. The report was published after a complaint was made by Statewatch, a UK organisation fighting for transparency.

In his draft recommendation in March this year, the Ombudsman asked the Council to release all the relevant documents. According to the evidence in the Ombudsman’s possession, the Council has so far failed to do this. In his special report to the European Parliament, the Ombudsman restates his recommendation and calls on the Parliament to intervene.

The Ombudsman is of the view that the Council should establish such a list of all the documents that were put before its meetings and make it available to citizens. This is vital so that citizens can use their right of access to documents properly, he says.

 

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, commented: "The European Ombudsman has again backed the cause of openness and access to documents in the EU. He has also laid down a marker that the registers which the Council, Commission and European Parliament have to make operational by 3 June 2002 have to contain information on all the documents considered at all levels of the decision-making process and the implementation of measures."

 

In July 2000, Statewatch lodged a complaint when it noticed that a number of documents (for example Room documents and SN (unnumbered) documents) used by the Council for its meetings, were generally not listed on the agendas nor on the 'outcomes of proceedings', and were not kept in a public register (see , 12 July 2000).

The Council argued that some papers only represented the preliminary reflections of a "single person" or "a very small group of persons" contributing to the Council's deliberations. Since these papers are of a transitory, preliminary nature, the Council did not think they should be included in a public register and be subject to public access. Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents obliges the Council to keep such a public register.

 

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