Opening closed doors: Council says access to documents in EU on the rise

The Council has released figures according to which the request for access to meeting papers has doubled since the entry into force of the ‘access to documents’ Regulation in 2001.

The regulation underlines the EU’s committment to openness, but the Council reserves the right to retain documents which it classifies as ‘secret, top secret or confidential,’ which, if published could jeopardize a Member States negotiating stance in the legislative process or could otherwise breach the security of decision-making developments. 173 documents were kept off the register books for this reason between December 2001 and the end of 2002. These ‘exceptions’ to the rules of total openness were introduced by the so-called ‘Solana coup’ in 2000 and reference the practice on security provisions used within NATO (seeEURACTIV 5 December 2002,2 July 2001and21 March 2001).

 

At a seminar on opennness and good administration organized by the three Nordic countries, journalists and Member State representatives supported Council efforts on increased access to documentation.

Yet, as a joint Swedish/Danish survey on these issues, presented by theInternational Federation of Journalistsshowed, the regulation has done little to enhance the public knowledge of Member State positions in Council negotiations.

Further, asReuters European bureau chief Paul Taylorcriticised, documents and meeting agendas on the official register and by written request are still subject to bureaucratic processing and thus not accessible rapidly enough, for the public to make full use of them.

Finnish Justice Ministry spokesman, Mikael Carpelan stressed that a future EU Treaty should anchor the principle of open decision making more firmly. Article 255 of the current EU Treaty which guarantees access to documents should be integrated in the new Trety and extended to all EU insitutions and agency bodies.

TheHead of the Council's Transparency Unit, Ramon Jimenez, was open to criticism but stressed the service could only be as good as those using it, demanded it to be. He and his colleague from the Council's Legal Service, Martin Bauer, underlined the effect that legal precedence and the intervention of the European Ombudsman have on forcing the institutions to open up even further.

 

Just over a year after the new regulation on access to EU documents came into place, Council members have passed a positive judgement on the effect of the rule in enhancing the transparency of the Union, while journalists and Member State officials still voice criticism. The number of requests for access to EU Council of Ministers documents has doubled to 2, 394 since the entry into force of the legislation and 80 per cent of these demands have resulted in full disclosure, the Council said.

 

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