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Europe backs changes to FOI laws

Transparency rules to keep politicians on their toes

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On Tuesday the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee voted to support minor amendments to Commission's proposals to alter existing EU regulations on public access to EU documents. Both the Commission and the Committee want to update the regulations to reflect new access requirements to documents agreed under the Lisbon Treaty.

Following the Lisbon Treaty coming into effect in 2009 amendments were made to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which sets out the legal framework for EU institutions. Further changes were made to the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), which sets out the underlying principles for EU law-making.

Under the revised TFEU "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 documents of the Union’s institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, whatever their medium" – subject to certain principles and conditions.

Under the amended TEU "every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen".

The EU's regulations on public access to documents pre-exist the Lisbon Treaty amendments and have still to be updated. The regulations state that the public should generally have the "widest possible" access to files held by the European Parliament, Commission and Council of Ministers only.

Under the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee-backed proposals, those regulations would be updated to "ensure" citizens have the "widest possible" access to documents from all EU institutions, subject to exceptions. The proposals were recommended in an opinion (6-page/151KB PDF) by Finnish MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki.

"As stipulated in the current regulation, transparency is one of the most effective guarantees that the administration enjoys greater legitimacy and is more effective and more accountable to the citizen in a democratic system," Jäätteenmäki said.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said the Constitutional Affairs Committee's support meant EU citizens were "a step closer" to better rights of access to EU documents.

"The Commission welcomes this opinion as a step towards increasing the rights of citizens to hold European decision-makers to account," Šefčovič said.

"I hope it will pave the way for a two-step approach in improving the rules in this area. In the short term, we need to make the rules compliant with the new Treaty for the benefit of citizens. This will introduce greater transparency in those institutions and bodies which are not yet covered by the rules on access to documents. As a separate step, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission should agree on a deeper overhaul of the rules," he said.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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