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Help Make the EU More Transparent!

Amsterdam/Brussels/Madrid

9 December 2011

 

Dear FOIAnet members (especially in the EU)

Your help is needed!

On 15 December the European Parliament will vote on the future of EU access to documents rules. After almost a year of no movement, suddenly things are moving again!

Most political parties are in favour of legislative proposals by Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE Committee)  which will be the focus of the voting.

However the European People’s Party – which is the largest single bloc and the parties in power in many EU countries – is against the proposed amendments and is calling for changes to the access to documents rules which would be more restrictive.

Many of you signed a letter about this reform back in January, see here.

Now you can help again: by contacting your MEPs, particularly your EPP MEPs, and calling on them to vote in favour of the amendments proposed by the LIBE Committee.

Below is the letter we just sent to all the EPP MEPs (Another letter went to the other MEPs; both will be on the Access Info Europe website later today).

Could you do any of the following? :

  • Translate this into your national language and resend it to your EPP MEPs
  • Get other NGOs in your country to sign
  • Try to get the media in your country writing about this.

 

There is very little time – anything you can do will be much appreciated!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information: I have the contact info of all the EPP MEPs country by country if you need it.

Best and thanks in advance!

Helen, Anaïs, and Daniel

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Amsterdam/Brussels/Madrid

8 December 2011

Re: Plenary vote on Thursday 15 December on access to documents rules

 

Dear EPP MEP,

We are writing to ask you to take action to protect the transparency of the European Union on behalf of EU citizens on 15 December 2011 through your vote on the reform of the EU’s access to documents rules (Regulation 1049/2001).

Your support is needed to secure and advance EU transparency in line with the public’s right of access to documents set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (Article 15) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 42). 

On Thursday, 15 December you will be asked to vote on the future of the rules. The LIBE Committee report is a response to the Commission’s 2008 proposals for a recast which led to widespread concerns about a reduction of the level of openness of the EU.

The EU Ombudsman and many others have warned that the Commission’s revisions would lead to fewer documents being disclosed to the public and hence to the EU becoming even more distant from its citizens.

In January of this year, 152 non-governmental organisations along with 137 investigative journalists, academics and campaigners from across Europe and beyond signed an open letter to MEPs (letter and more info available here), urging the European Parliament to maintain and expand the public’s right to access information held by the EU.

We are now urging you once again to support the amendments proposed in the report from the LIBE Committee which address many of the concerns voiced by civil society.

During discussions in the LIBE Committee, the EPP withheld support for the report based on concerns over three points:

  • Amendment 30 rejects the Commission’s proposal to narrow the definition of 'document' and broadens it to cover information held in electronic systems, including databases stored on "off site" servers. The EPP expressed the view that this would permit preparatory and confidential documents to be released and undermine civil servants’ “space to think”. This concern is based on a misunderstanding. The Regulation provides a wide definition of ‘document’ but also a wide range of exceptions in Article 4, which permit documents to be withheld to protect legitimate interests, such as commercial secrets or the space to think (Art. 4(3)). Narrowing the definition is thus unnecessary and may lead to requests being refused because the information is not contained in a ‘document’, regardless of any harm to legitimate interests.
  • Amendments 29, 35, 41 and 44 seek to enhance the openness of legislative procedures in line with Article 1 TEU (“decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen”), Article 15(3) TFEU, last paragraph and the Court of Justice of the EU's case law. The EPP cautioned that increased access to preparatory legislative documents will significantly impair decision-making. We believe transparency of the legislative process is an essential democratic requirement, which will increase public understanding of and confidence in EU decision-making without undermining its effectiveness.
  • The EPP expressed its support for protection of privacy, data protection, commercial secrets and sensitive information related to court proceedings. These interests are currently effectively protected by Article 4 of the Regulation and this will not change under the report adopted by LIBE. 

By supporting the amendments proposed in the LIBE report you will: 

Bring the EU’s access to documents rules into line with the Lisbon Treaty: a range of amendments ensures alignment with the Lisbon treaty. These include 26, 28 and 29, which will make the Regulation applicable not only to Institutions but also to bodies, offices and agencies, as well as the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank insofar as they perform administrative tasks. This is required by Article 15(3) TFEU.

Uphold the Pro-Transparency Decisions of the European Court of Justice: Amendment 35 aligns the Regulation with the Turco ruling in which the ECJ held that opinions of the Council’s legal service issued in the course of legislative procedures should in principle be disclosed.

Reject a member state transparency veto based on weak access to information laws: Amendment 43 implements the ruling in Case C-64/05 P, Sweden v Commission, where the ECJ held that Member States do not have a general and unconditional right of veto with regards to access to documents originating from them. It removes the Commission proposal to allow Member States to base a veto on their own national legislation, which in many cases is weaker than the EU’s access to documents rules.

Ensure a rapid appeal process for members of the public denied information: Amendment 50 ensures that confirmatory applications will still need to be responded to within 15, rather than 30 working days (although this can still be extended in exceptional cases by 15 days).

Establish Information Officers to improve efficiency in responding to requests from the public: Amendment 62 institutes the appointment of an information officer within each administrative unit, responsible to ensure correct application of the transparency rules.

Preserve existing legitimate exceptions which protect privacy, business secrets, and genuinely sensitive information in the context of competition and staff cases whilst ensuring, through amendment 38, that information which should be made public is automatically released. 

Thank you for your consideration,

 

Helen Darbishire

Access Info Europe  www.access-info.org

 

Anaïs Berthier

ClientEarth  www.clientearth.org

 

Daniel Simons

Greenpeace International  www.greenpeace.org