16.2.2012 European Voice, Constant Brand
MEPs wanted public to have greater access but member states say that plan is unworkable.
Denmark has rejected a bid by the European Parliament to give the public greater access to European Union documents. In a discussion paper circulated to member states, the Danish government, which holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers, comes out against many ideas that were approved last year by MEPs.
For four years, the Council and the Parliament have been at odds over a proposal to revise rules on access to documents. The European Commission made a proposal in 2008, which was criticised by MEPs and by the European ombudsman and the European data-protection supervisor, for reducing access. Several member states, including France, Germany, Spain and the UK, are opposed to making more documents public. Denmark is trying to break the deadlock, partly because the existing rules need updating to take account of the Lisbon treaty. They apply only to documents of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, whereas the Lisbon treaty gives the public a right of access to documents of all EU institutions, bodies and agencies.
Denmark’s discussion paper, which was circulated to member states on Friday (10 February), will be discussed on 9 March at a meeting of a Council working group. It identifies issues where it believes compromises between the two sides are possible. But it waters down or ignores many proposals contained in a report prepared for the Parliament by Michael Cashman, a British centre-left MEP. His report, which was backed by the Parliament last December, proposes an ambitious interpretation of what constitutes a document and what texts should be made public. It recommends that any data involving issues pertaining to EU institutions, bodies or agencies should be considered a document, no matter whether they are on paper, in an email or in audiovisual form. The Parliament report calls for a standard classification of documents such as ‘EU top secret’ or ‘EU restricted’ and recommends the creation of a single ”user-friendly” website where the public can find EU documents. The Parliament has also called for access rules to apply to all documents held by an EU entity, which would include documents that member states share with the EU.
Diplomats from France and the UK and Commission officials had already branded the Parliament’s proposals as unrealistic. One said that they were ”utterly unacceptable”. Danish diplomats said it would be impossible for member states to agree to them and they had had to set lower ambitions in a bid to find a compromise.
Denmark’s proposal does not endorse the Parliament’s definition of a document and recommends that existing exemptions limiting access to national documents be maintained. Cashman said that while the Danish paper was a ”good basis” for negotiations, the Parliament had concerns with it, a point shared by Anneli Jäätteenmäki, a Finnish Liberal MEP. ”We can’t undo what the Parliament has decided,” she said.