Access to EU Council Documents: European Ombudsman rules in favour of SP

2 August 2018

Access to EU Council Documents: European Ombudsman rules in favour of SP

On Wednesday the European Ombudsman ruled in favour of SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong's request for access to the EU Council's legal advice in relation to a transparency register. Explaining his request, De Jong said: “As long as three years ago I lodged a request with the Council for access to the full advice given by the Legal Services on the question of possible participation by the Council in the transparency register. The Council has repeatedly refused to grant this, but not only did the Ombudsman rule in my favour on every point, but has also ensured that the Council has given me access to the advice, uncensored. The ruling confirms that documents in the framework of an inter-institutional agreement between Council, Commission and Parliament are comparable to legislative documents. Earlier this year the European Court of Justice ruled that important documents must be publicly available, which will at last give member states' citizens more of an insight into how decisions are taken in Brussels and means that governments can no longer hide behind a veil of secrecy.”

De Jong has fought for years for greater openness on the part of the Council. “As things stand, no-one can follow the process of decision-making in the Council,” he says. “National parliaments can't easily control how their ministers and officials stand in Brussels. Step by step we're making breaches in the dam. The Council can no longer hide behind arguments such as that the transparency register for lobbyists isn't a legislative matter, but merely an 'administrative question.' Although the Ombudsman can't make binding rulings, the Court of Justice, if asked, will certainly take her considerations into account.”

In other ways too the pressure on the Council to give greater access to its documents is stepping up. The European Parliament is, for instance, working on an answer to a Special Report on this subject from the Ombudsman, while twenty-six national parliaments have endorsed a report from three Dutch MPs, including the SP's Renske Leijten, a report which also calls for more openness. “We've really taken some big steps forward, but we're not there yet,” says De Jong: “While it's true that the Council has voted to accept making Legal Advice public, it hasn't accepted the Ombudsman's general considerations which accompanied this and backed it up. In my comments I have therefore also asked the Ombudsman to question the Council further on this point, because this is of course not good enough.”

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