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European Union

 
03/05
2012

Presidency criticised :”Even worse than the Commission” -

The Danish EU-presidency has failed to unite member states on new access rules for the EU-institutions. Sweden, Finland and possibly others will refuse to back a mandate to negotiate a new regulation. Swedish minister pins her hope to the Parliament

Its no secrecy that member states have different opinions on access rules. But now the split comes out in the open.
Swedish minister of justice Beatrice Ask (conservative) has instructed the Swedish EU-ambassador not to endorse a negotiating mandate proposed by the Danish presidency.
Minister Ask explains why in a comment to this website:
”If the mandate would give space for improved openness I would be the first to vote yes, but I believe that would be wishful thinking as things stand right now. The mandate will pull in the opposite direction, and there is even a risk that it is worse than the Commission's proposal from 2008.”

 

The mandate will be on the agenda for ”endorsement” at a weekly meeting with the member state's EU-ambassadors, known in Brussels by the French acronym Coreper (Comité des Représentants Permanents).
May 8, or May 10, is a likely occasion.
The endorsement will initiate a three partite negotiation between the Council (of ministers), the Commission and the Parliament. This will eventually pave the way for a legislative decision by the Council and the Parliament later on.
It is not yet clear whether the Council's mandate will be made public or not.

But these are the most sensitive issues in the proposal, wobbing.eu has learned:
* Definition of a document. A new article defining when a document is finalized and thus accessible has been added. The article says a document is covered ”when finalized for the purpose it was intended.”
* Whole categories of documents are to be kept outside the scope - documents on infringement procedures (member states accused of breaking EU-law), on competition (cartels, mergers and state-aid cases) and documents related to court proceedings.
*Advices from legal services on disputed matters are also to be kept outside the scope – an exemption judged by the Court of Justice to be unfounded according to the present regulation.
* Data protection likely to overrule the right to access.

* Veto for member states on release of documents sent to the institutions.

All in all there are nine different areas to be sorted out in the upcoming negotiations with the Parliament, not counting new amendments the parliamentarians might bring to the table.
In an attempt to smoothen the process the presidency has deliberately used a languages that can be interpreted in different ways. This is described as ”constructive ambiguity” with a slight touch of irony.

This precaution may come useful as none of the points above opens up the institutions to the public. On the contrary they all represent step backwards for transparency compared to the present rules adopted in 2001.
Members of the European Parliament have argued that the present crisis call for more openness of the EU-institutions as the citizens have been asked to make hugh sacrifices due to austerity measures decided by the EU. Such arguments have so far made no visible impact on the EU governments.

Trilogues or three partite negotiations have become the most common way of adopting EU-laws. They have the advantage of saving time by shortcutting an otherwise lengthy process.
They have the disadvantage of taking place behind closed doors, with a limited possibility for other than the directly involved negotiators to follow, not to mention influence the outcome.
The future rules for openness are worked out in secrecy.

The proposal now brought closer to a decision is not exactly what the Danish government would have preferred, had it acted from a purely national position.
But as president for the different council formations the danes feel an urge to push the procedure forward in order to reach a decision before Cyprus takes over at the helm July 1.
The Danish presidency is also believed to reason somewhat along the following line:
This is as good as it gets between the member states. Now it is up to the Parliament to react. Whatever changes will be the result, it can only be for the better.

This line of reasoning is actually close to the arguments by the Swedish minister.
Beatrice Ask comments on the further developments with an direct appeal to the Parliament:
”I've been clear all the time that I will not accept changes in the access regulation that might lead to less transparency, and I certainly stand by this commitment. If Sweden and other pro-transparent countries are overruled in the Council, we will have to put our trust to the European Parliament. The Parliament's position from December last year showed a clear endeavour towards more openness. I assume the Parliament stands firm on this position.”

 

 

Staffan Dahllöf

 
 
 

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