The EU Council has in fact changed its procedure for access to documents as I speculated last month. The introduction of a written procedure when dealing with appeals (‘confirmatory applications’) seems to have come in reaction to an own-initiative report issued by the EU Ombudsman last June.
However, the new procedure does not come without conflict as this recent decision and the written declarations by some member states in an appeal case reveal (my highlight):
“[Denmark], [Estonia], [Slovenia], [Finland], [Sweden] underline the importance of workable deadlines by the Council Secretariat when using the written procedure to give time for a proper examination by member states, which was not the case. For that reason, DK, EE, SI, FI, SE did not have sufficient time to examine the document in detail. From the outset it seems that the possibility of granting partial access has not been thoroughly examined and more information could be released without jeopardizing the current negotiations with Turkey. DK, EE, SI, FI, SE are not convinced that all the negotiating directives for the Treaty establishing the Energy Community are still relevant for the ongoing negotiations on the accession of Turkey to the said international agreement.”
“[Netherlands]: Although we agree with the proposed answer, NL stresses the importance of workable deadlines by the Council Secretariat when using the written procedure to give time for a properexamination by member states“.
It’s interesting to see that those member states that are generally the ones in favour of more transparency in the Council now complain about the way the new written procedure rule is used in this case. The new rule is meant to speed up decisions on appeals – the duration was a problem rightly mentioned by the Ombudsman – but it shows that this is not necessarily in favour of a wider access to documents.
It’s difficult to judge whether this is just a problem for the first times that this procedure is applied or whether this will become a perpetual problem. It will be interesting to watch, for instance whether written procedure cases will be more likely to be refused than the ones dealt with in the Working Party on Information.
Update: There’s a second document of the same date with a similar complaint by the five member states.