Tuesday 20 April 2010

Public access to EU documents - A never-ending story

After having written about the 2009 report on public access to EU Council documents* and about "The Leaking Union" these days, I thought I'd just link the previous Council reports, too, and then put these into some perspective regarding the stalemate reform of public access to EU documents.
  • 2002 (first annual report)
  • 2003 (second annual report)
  • 2004 (third annual report)
  • 2005 (fourth annual report)
  • 2006 (fifth annual report)
  • 2007 (sixth annual report)
  • 2008 (seventh annual report)
(Maybe somebody wants to take a look to see whether there are some interesting developments?)

In the meantime, the EU institutions are debating the recast of the Regulation 1049/2001 on public access to EU documents that is the basis for the above-mentioned reports. Already two years ago, in April 2008, the Commission proposed changes, but Council and Parliament have not come to an agreement (see the PRELEX dossier) until now.

Since December 2009, the entry into force of the Lisbon has changed the legal basis of the regulation and of the proposed modifications, as the Commission tells in an explanatory note from January.

The public right to access to documents is now governed by Article 15 paragraph 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU):
Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have a right of access to documents of the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, whatever their medium, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance with this paragraph.

General principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest governing this right of access to documents shall be determined by the European Parliament and the Council, by means of regulations, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure.

Each institution, body, office or agency shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents, in accordance with the regulations referred to in the second subparagraph.
The proposal regarding the recast of the 2001 regulation is not affected, explains the Commission in its note, but since the other two institutions are unable to come to an agreement the Commission considers proposing some modifications.

I hope that there are people within the Commission, the Parliament and even the Council who are willing to bring these things forward - the Union desperately needs more transparency, in particular in the light of the initiatives to create a European public sphere.

PS: If you want to see what kind of requests for access to documents are made at the Council, you can follow this search query.

* full title: "Eigth annual report of the Council on the implementation of Regulation No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents"