The European Union is currently revising its access to document rules (revision of 1049/2001, COD 90/2008) . In fact the Commission made a proposal that contradicts the Amsterdam spirit and makes access more restrictive. In November Statewatch criticised the status quo. In particular documents relating to external relations are still not accessible:
Tony Bunyan, of the NGO Statewatch, expressed astonishment that documents relating to negotiations between the European Union and the United States could not be accessed. "The situation is getting ridiculous. We have growing problems to access documents from third countries at the Council", he said, adding that these were mainly US documents on negotiations with the EU on the area of Freedom, Security and Justice. It often seemed that the Council was hiding US documents not because the content was controversial in itself but rather in order to conceal the major influence that the US government has on EU legislation, he suggested. "It's as if the United States were the 28th Member State of the Union".
Recently we were able to publish the road map for transatlantic patent harmonisation via a 1049/2001 document access request. However the transatlantic trade talks within the transatlantic economic council are totally intransparent, even for council working groups access to what happened there may be very difficult.
At another recent hearing Swedish Commissioner Wallström was present, although the proposal seems to belong into the sphere of Commissioner Kallas. One of the insightful changes proposed by the Commission is that they give people from third nations a right to access to documents although the EU treaties only provide for a right for European citizens. I wonder why the Commission is so keen to hand our rights to persons from third nations. And Article 255 EC refers to the right of access to documents, without permitting the institutions to exclude certain categories of document from this right. The Commission however wants to restrict it to mere legislative ones. Art 255 provides the scope of the regulation is restricted to certain bodies of the Union but a ratified Lisbon treaty would provide some progress here.
Treaty establishing the European Community (Nice consolidated version)
1. 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 European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance with paragraphs 2 and 3.
2. General principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest governing this right of access to documents shall be determined by the Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251 within two years of the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam.
3. Each institution referred to above shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.