13 January 2012

European Parliament adopts proposals aimed at improving the EU’s transparency rules

In December of 2011, the European Parliament adopted proposals to improve the European Union's rules that deal with access to documents.

The proposals were accepted by a majority of representatives within the European Parliament, with 394 in favour. However, the 197 opposing votes represent a significant portion of Parliament, which came predominantly from the European Peoples' Party which consists mainly of Christian democrats. There were 35 abstentions.

The reforms that were adopted were previously contained in a report by UK Member of Parliament, Michael Cashman, who stated "Only through transparency can citizens participate in an informed way in the democratic process, which is even more important in the current crisis."

Cashman's report was adopted by the Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Committee prior to the vote. The proposals now represent the official stance of the European Parliament, though they must still be negotiated with the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2012.

Certain NGOs, including Access Info Europe, ClientEarth, and Greenpeace all supported the outcome of the vote. These groups highlighted some of the positive developments that will come about as a result of the proposals being adopted.

For example, the definition of a "document" will be broadened, such that it includes electronic systems and databases. The right of access will also be expanded to apply to all bodies of the European Union.

Additionally, the member state transparency veto was rejected by the proposals, which could have been exercised on the basis of a member state's relatively weak domestic access to information laws. The proposals establish information officers, which should improve the efficiency of responding to requests and they also promote a rapid appeal process for members of the public who are refused information.