Access to documents
Rapporteur takes shot at Day and Barroso for «poisoning» debate
By Gaspard Sebag | Friday 15 June 2012
Rapporteur Michael Cashman (S&D, UK), disappointed that talks to update Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents have broken down, hit out at the European Commission for blocking progress and poisoning the debate in Council concerning the Danish Presidency’s intentions. He suspects the direct involvement of EU executive chief José Manuel Barroso and Secretary-General Catherine Day. “What was clear from the very beginning was that the Commission was not prepared to negotiate,” Cashman tells
Changes in jurisprudence, a new treaty provision and over ten years of experience in handling access to documents (see box) led the EU executive to make two proposals to modify Regulation 1049/2001: one in view of a thorough recast, in 2008, and another more technical, in 2011. Since then, “although the Commission has come with more legal advisors and more advisors from directorates than the Presidency and Parliament put together they haven’t come with one single drafting idea [during negotiations]”.
The rapporteur believes that the Danish Presidency started out with the intention of succeeding but that amongst member states “there’s a sort of suspicion - because the Danes are the Danes - on this that they are pushing this agenda because it is part of their own national agenda”. The EU executive reinforced this idea by “briefing against the Danish Presidency within Council” and “poisoned the debate regarding the Danes’ intentions,” according to Cashman. “The Commission is very good at spreading poison along the corridors, telling people ‘you do know that your personal records and medical files will become accessible’,” he says. The Commission’s work was made easier because the EU12 states were not part of the original 15 that agreed to the regulation on access to documents, in 2001. “To a lot of these countries the whole issue of access to documents is a fairly new concept so often they look to the Commission,” believes the rapporteur.
In the end, the only clear support the Danish Presidency got for its approach to bridge the gap with Parliament came from Sweden and Finland, with the Netherlands and Estonia also said to push for more transparency.
According to Cashman, the Commission’s “blocking position” did not come from civil servants but from the highest political position. “I’ve been tipped off by an ex-official that the officials representing this file would never act in that way unless it actually came from Barroso and Catherine Day,” he says.
Cashman thinks the Danish Presidency will put the file in the fridge and despite Cyprus’ announced intention to reignite the negotiations there will be no continuation as there is no will in Council. “So it will just rest there until [member states] have an agreed position. Only when they have an agreed position can Parliament then go to second reading,” he says.
The rapporteur fears that “three years down the line positions on this will have hardened, on both sides.” In the meantime, Cashman is not too worried. Firstly, he is perfectly happy with the regulation currently in place. “I’ve always said it’s a good organic piece of legislation. It has grown and it has defined itself and is being defined through the jurisprudence,” considers the rapporteur. Secondly, with the EP legal service’s backing, Cashman says that the new Lisbon Treaty provisions extending access to documents to all EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, and not only Parliament, Council and Commission, as was hitherto the case, are in effect. To settle any dispute, the Court of Justice of the EU will most probably be called upon at some point.
Glitches to remain
As the revision of the regulation stays in limbo, glitches and necessary updates will not be addressed. The Commission has expressed its frustration with the added workload induced when it comes to lawyers requesting competition files and NGOs wanting every single piece of information on a specific topic. Though block exceptions in these cases are not acceptable for Parliament, Cashman says he wanted to deal with this “abuse by lawyers and corporations”.
Another item that could have been improved in the regulation is to bring it in line with the access to environmental information introduced by the Aarhus Convention. The rapporteur also wanted to get the balance right between data protection and the right to privacy data protection issues so that data protection is not used to circumvent access just because a civil servant is named within a document. Cashman was also pushing for the Commission to be more proactive in publishing documents relative to the legislative procedure and for transparency officers to be appointed in directorates-general.