Ombudsman demands better access to EU documents

In response to public consultation launched by the Commission, European Ombudsman Paraskevas Nikiforos Diamandouros has called for citizens to have wider access to documents and information, so that they can better understand the role played by member states in making and implementing the European Union’s policies.

According to the European Ombudsman, the lack of minimum standards for transparency about EU related matters in member states represents a serious weakness in the democratic structure of the Union. For example, a member state currently has the right to veto public access to its documents at the EU level, without giving any reason. The Ombudsman makes concrete proposals on how to tackle the problem, in a paper submitted on 24 July 2007.

Furthermore, the Ombudsman called for shorter review procedures in cases where access to documents has been denied. Citizens, NGOs, enterprises or other organisations who turn to the Ombudsman after an EU institution has refused access to certain documents should not have to wait months for the EU institution to explain its position.

The Ombudsman based his response to the Green Paper on his work investigating complaints. He notes in that connection that one quarter of his inquiries concern lack of transparency, including the refusal of EU institutions to give access to documents and information. For example, he is currently investigating complaints about the quality of the Commission’s registers of documents, as well as the treatment of the information available in databases.

European Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros said: "Transparency is essential for citizens to participate in the political process and to hold public authorities to account. For citizens of the Union who want to monitor how the Union's policies are made and implemented, the current situation thus presents a systemic problem. On the one hand, the exercise of public authority closely connects the national and Union levels. On the other hand, there is a rigid separation of those levels when it comes to the legal framework of transparency.

On 18 April 2007, the European Commission adopted a Green Paper, launching a public consultation on the rules regarding public access to documents held by the EU institutions (Regulation 1049/2001). Stating that the accumulated experience of five years made this an appropriate time to revisit the current Regulation, the Commission called on all those involved to forward their proposals on how to make the legislative process of the EU institutions more accessible to the public. 

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