This week, the Civil Liberties Committee (‘LIBE’) of the European Parliament has passed by 33 to 17 votes a report on the legislative proposal(s) by the EU Commission to reform the EU’s access to documents regulation.* This means that finally the process on reforming the EU transparency legislation will move on, although I have my doubts that the Council will allow a pro-transparency reform to happen.
When reading the amendments proposed by different MEPs to Cashman’s draft report, one thing became pretty obvious: As far as I can see, and as far as my personal interpretation and view is concerned, the only substantive anti-transparency amendments, which, if accepted, would have introduced considerable limits the public’s access to EU documents, were proposed by the centre-right MEP Renate Sommer (EPP/CDU; Germany).
The most striking of these for me is this one (n° 77) where she formulates exceptions that should not even be included in the definition (sic!) of what ‘documents’ are:
“…with the exception of drafts, memoranda, information papers, minutes of informal meetings or meetings to which the public do not have access and which are not intended to form part of a document;”
So in the view of MEP Sommer, drafts do not constitute documents although it is drafts that make the public understand how decision-makers have changed their minds in the course of decision-making processes. It is drafts – in comparison with later or final versions – that make us asked who or what has influenced changes, who or what has made that relevant concerns have or have not been heard.
Furthermore, memoranda and information papers may actually reveal the reasons for such developments of policy positions, policy that may end up in laws for 500 million people in the Union.
How can anyone think that drafts, memoranda or working papers are not ‘documents’? If they contain something that would pose any danger to the institutions or the public if publicised, there is still the possibility to limit access to the exceptions contained in the regulation, but starting the exclusion right at the defining stage…?!
And finally, what is an “informal meeting“? And what are “minutes … which are not intended to form part of a document“? Either there is documentation, hand-written or digitally stored, about a meeting, then they are “documents”, or there is no such record. If the legal exceptions regarding access to such documents apply, fine, but not considering them documents at all…?!
Excluding these things already from the definition of what a document is, is ridiculous and reveals a mindset that I consider pretty strange. This mindset was for me confirmed by further amendments proposed by Sommer (e.g. n° 83 & 87).
So here’s my personal recommendation: If you’d ever look for an advocate for EU intransparency in the European Parliament, you who is working for an interest group with interests that nobody ever would publicly support or you who is working for a government or EU body who has to hide its actions from its own voters and other European citizens, MEP Renate Sommer is the one you should contact!
(Yet, I hope these amendments were refused by the Committee this week; the final report or the result of the votes are not yet published so we can’t be sure.)
Update (3:20 pm): After listening to the recording of the meeting – the agenda items starts at 1h23mins into the stream – I heard Ms Sommer take the parole once the voting on amendments was finished 1h40mins into the stream (own translation):
“The EPP will vote against this report. This is a minority position. The EPP will therefore issue a minority statement based on Article 51(3) Rules of Procedure and we would like to include it into the minutes of the meeting.“
Looks like the EPP collectively is having strange views on transparency in the European Union. So in case MEP Sommer is not available, you’ve got the whole centre-right as your advocate against more transparency.
* The procedure was ongoing since 2008, interrupted by the EP elections 2009, the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2010, and as far as I understand, the necessity to check the legality of some of the proposals made by the lead MEP (‘rapporteur’) Michael Cashman who presented the draft report with amendments to the Commission’s proposals, supplemented by the amendments put forward by other MEPs. All other related meeting documents of the LIBE committee can be found here.