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EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES REGULATION ON ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS.

The European Parliament voted in Brussels on May 3 by 388 votes to 87 with 12 abstentions to adopt the report by Michael Cashman (PES, United Kingdom) on public access to documents held by the European institutions. The vote confirms the compromise reached on April 25 by the Chairman of the Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Graham Watson (EDR, United Kingdom) and the President of the Committee of Member States' Permanent Representatives to the EU (COREPER), the Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund. The Regulation should be formally adopted by the General Affairs Council on June 11 following final legal and linguistic checks.Following the Parliament's vote, Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for Institutional Reform, declared: "the text is probably not perfect from everybody's point of view. But the Commission considers it a fair balance between the varying traditions that different Member States hold on this topic. Furthermore it also corresponds to the different and specific tasks that the EU Treaty assigns to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission respectively".The new Regulation will to a large extent confirm existing practice. However, it will also imply an important number of new elements:* Incoming documents (from third parties) are now included in the access to documents system. The previous rules only covered documents produced by the Institutions themselves.* The definition of a document is very wide: access to all kinds of documents will now be possible, whether preparatory or final, whether sensitive or not, whether drafted by the institution or drafted by a third party.* Restrictions on access to documents: access to documents may be restricted in a limited number of situations. The new Regulation clarifies and rationalises the existing practice. In any event, a "harm test" ("would divulging the document prejudice the public interest in the case at hand"?) must be applied even if the documents falls into category of documents to which access can exceptionally be restricted. If a document is only partly covered by a restriction, the non-restricted parts must be released.* The institutions will have to work faster. They will have to reply within 15 working days rather than a month as at present.* In order to facilitate access to documents (and the identification of documents of potential interest to the citizen) the institutions must establish a register of all documents. Inclusion in the register is not a prerequisite for requesting access to a document, but it will make finding and identifying documents easier for the interested citizen.

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Publication:European Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4E
Date:May 5, 2001
Words:411
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