Documents-access proposals receive measured welcome

As the European Commission published its Green Paper on the review of access to documents legislation on 2 May 2007, a seminar called for as many organisations and individuals as possible to join the debate, arguing that methods of recourse when access to documents is denied were “insufficient and take far too long”.

The European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) seminar came out of research carried out on a 2001 EU Regulation on access to documents – 1049/2001, and produced a number of ideas for improving the access-to-documents regime. MEP Michael Cashman and Jens Nymand Christensen of the secretariat-General of the Commission were among the speakers at the event, Should there be a freedom of information act for the EU?’ 

Michael Cashman, former European Parliament rapporteur on access to documents reminded the audience of his election in 1999, when he was asked to be rapporteur on the issue: “At the time, I thought it might be dull but it would not prove too difficult,” he said. “Instead, it became an extremely important and contentious issue.”

He commended the institutions for making “a brave first move” with Regulation 1049/2001.

Jens Nymand Christensen, director of better regulation and institutional issues for the
secretariat-general of the Commission, said that “Regulation 1049/2001 should be seen above all in its context – the Barroso Commission has made transparency an overarching priority”. The review of Regulation 1049/2001 was not the only important step taken, he added – there had been a number of Commission initiatives for openness in the past 12-18 months, such as the White Paper on Communication, and the voluntary register for lobbyists.

Delegates agreed that progress had been made since the regulation was brought in, with more requests for documents and better registers. “The services responsible for access to documents are clear advocates for transparency,” ECAS argued.

But, at the same time, the Green Paper fails to address enough of the “real issues”. An ECAS spokesman said: “Instead, it takes a defensive tone, and the questions for consultation do not invite the broadest range of approaches in response. Now is the time for as many organisations and individuals as possible to add their voices to the debate. Access to information is first and foremost an issue of public benefit, so the legislation should truly reflect public views.” – Professor Deirdre Curtin of the University of Utrecht raised the question as to whether there should be an EU ‘information commissioner’. 

The methods of recourse when access to documents has been denied were also deemed “insufficient and take far too long”. Many speakers agreed that further external scrutiny of the institutions was required, with “a quicker and easier method of recourse is necessary”. 

 

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