It’s almost 3 months since I submitted my doctoral thesis. It’s 23 months since I filed a complaint to the European Ombudsman. It’s 24 months since I filed a confirmatory application to the European Commission to get 5 documents on the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy reform. It’s 26 months since I requested the 1st of those documents from DG MARE. The waiting is over.
Recently, following a friendly settlement procedure in my Ombudsman case, I finally received the 5 documents in full after having received partial access in late 2011 (see the list below).
The redacted versions that I received in late 2011 contain “deleted” for all parts of the text/comments that were not kept in the final Commission proposal (COM(2011)425). This allows you to analyse the scope of changes from the first main drafts until the final proposal:
- - Interservice Consultation draft of the Commission proposal for a new Basic Regulation of the Common Fisheries Policy (redacted version);
- - Post-Interservice Consultation draft of the Commission proposal for a new Basic Regulation of the Common Fisheries Policy (redacted version);
- - DG Environment position (plus annex) in the interservice consultation (redacted version);
- - DG Consumer & Health position in the interservice consultation (redacted version);
- - I also requested the DG MARKT position in interservice consultation, but I was informed no such document existed.
Why did I want to get those documents? I had written my doctoral thesis with a starting assumption:
- It’s personal and professional networks that define how well-informed people are about EU politics, because it’s too difficult or time-consuming to get the information through formal freedom of information requests.
When I initially made the request for those 5 documents, I just wanted to test whether anyone could have received them officially, through DG MARE or through other relevant DGs (ENV, SANCO, MARKT).
While I was interested in the content of these documents as a background, seeing whether they would actually be released while the decision-making within the Commission was still ongoing was the main concern of the formal request. Only if this was not the case was I able to robustly test my hypothesis that personal networks would matter to get (leaked) copies.
In my PhD research (I still need to defend my thesis), I found indeed that quite a wide circle of persons had access to leaked drafts of the Commission proposal (I had seen a partial leak myself). Yet, as a citizen and a researcher I had to wait until this month to get full access to documents that had been circulated in interest group circles months before the Commission’s official proposal, which for me showed the inequality between those with direct personal access to the Brussels bubble and the wider public.
It’s quite ironic that the Ombudsman took almost two years, until after I finished my PhD thesis to close my case and that I got those documents only short before the new Basic Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy will enter into force. Nevertheless, I’ve learnt quite a lot through this case, not least to be patient and also how EU information flows work. While these documents are of no use for my current PhD, I hope they will be at least for those who do research on EU fisheries policy in the future.
Disclaimer: I work for the Transparency International EU Office in Brussels, an organisation registered in the EU Transparency Register. My professional activities include issues such as EU access to documents rules and EU lobbying regulation. This case and this blog post are however part of my personal PhD research and are not part of my professional work (and have never been).