Stalemate in talks on access to EU documents
The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have broken off negotiations on revising the rules under which the public is granted access to European Union documents. Denmark, the current holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, last week dropped its efforts to bridge disagreements between national governments and MEPs after just one month of talks, after failing to get the backing of member states for a compromise proposal.
A spokesperson for the Danish government said: “It looks difficult at the moment and we are considering the next steps.”
Michael Cashman, a British centre-left MEP who led the negotiations on behalf of the Parliament, laid the blame squarely on the European Commission, and specifically on José Manuel Barroso, the president, and Catherine Day, the secretary-general.
“The Danes have been forced to give up primarily due to the blocking tactics of the Commission,” he said. “They [the Commission] have blocked most of the positions that the Danes have tried to take, and when we asked them to bring to the table their drafting suggestions they did absolutely nothing.”
Cashman said that he was considering publishing all the documents used in the negotiations to prove his point. Sticking points There are two main disagreements on which there has been little movement in the negotiations, according to Cashman and national diplomats.
The first concerns the Commission’s restrictive definition of what constitutes a document. In the Commission’s proposals, only documents “formally transmitted” fall under the transparency rules. The second concerns block exemptions for lawyers seeking commercially sensitive information in competition cases and in cases where pressure groups are seeking access to all documents on a particular topic.
“We are willing to work with the Commission to resolve the abusive use of these rules to gain commercial information,” Cashman said, adding that block exemptions were a “non-starter”.
A somewhat less divisive question is whether internal legal opinions drafted by EU officials should be made public. Denmark sought to move the Council’s negotiating mandate, issued in May, closer to the Parliament’s position, agreed by MEPs with a large majority in plenary last December. But the Danish bid failed to attract any support from the other member states, prompting complaints that it had “overplayed” its hand.
A spokesman for Maroš Šefcovic, the European commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration, said: “As is the case in many other policy areas, the Commission has been trying to help in talks between the Council presidency and the European Parliament. However, it appears that the position of the two branches of the legislature are far apart, so it is not possible at this stage to finalise the legislative process.”
He said that the Commission’s proposals, made in 2008 and 2011, are “the result of years of practical experience and a public consultation” on public access. The current rules, which apply specifically to the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament, date back to 2001.
The Treaty of Lisbon, which took effect in December 2009, extended their application to the EU’s agencies and other bodies. Cashman said that he had received legal advice from the Parliament’s legal service that the treaty provisions applied to agencies and other bodies even without revisions to the rules governing access to documents, and that “nothing will change” if the revisions are stalled.
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