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Europe D66 European Parliament

Call to widen document access rights

   Thu 09/11/2000

Article in the European Voice about new European Access to Documents legislation. "The whole atmosphere has changed with the Parliament's proposals," said Dutch Liberal MEP Lousewies van der Laan. "It used to be that things are secret unless they are made public. Now it is that they are public unless they are made secret."

Call to widen document access rights

By John Shelley

MEPS will next week demand radical changes to planned new rules on the public's right to scrutinise EU documents, insisting they should be extended to cover e-mails and preparatory papers.

The European Parliament is expected to call for the public to be given automatic access to the vast majority of documents circulated within the Union's institutions.

Under proposals drawn up by MEPs, only informal papers such as personal opinions and the results of brainstorming sessions would be automatically kept out of the public domain. But others could also remain secret if, for example, they would endanger public security, commercial secrecy or respect for privacy.

The assembly's demands go far beyond the European Commission's proposals, which have been vehemently criticised by MEPs. They argue that officials could find a way to keep virtually any document hidden under the extensive and open-ended list of exemptions proposed by the executive.

"The whole atmosphere has changed with the Parliament's proposals," said Dutch Liberal MEP Lousewies van der Laan. "It used to be that things are secret unless they are made public. Now it is that they are public unless they are made secret."

The assembly's demands are likely to run into opposition from some member states wary about giving the public too much access. But the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, which called for agreement on new openness rules by March 2001, requires the two sides to forge a compromise.

MEPs argue that the list of reasons for keeping a document confidential should be short and clearly defined. They also want the wording of the Commission's proposal changed so that officials can choose to keep exempted documents secret, rather than making this automatic.

© Copyright 2001 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.

 

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