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Procedure : 2008/0090(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0426/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0426/2011

Debates :

PV 14/12/2011 - 14
CRE 14/12/2011 - 14

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 9.2
CRE 15/12/2011 - 9.2
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

14. Public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Michael Cashman, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (recast) (COM(2008)0229 – C6-0184/2008 – 2008/0090(COD)) (A7-0426/2011).

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur. – Madam President, can I start by thanking colleagues that have worked with me on this dossier for what seems a very long time now. There may be some differences between most of us and the European People’s Party, but I am sure that we can overcome those differences in the long term.

I will put this debate in context, because it is not only about access to documents. The debate is about the pre-condition of democracy: access to documents is, according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, fundamental to citizens, and therefore any exceptions to that right have to be narrowly defined and justified. Only through transparency can citizens participate in an informed way in the democratic process, which is even more important in the current crisis.

What we are talking about is a right that allows citizens and their representatives outside Parliament and the institutions to make sure that we are accountable: parliamentarians accountable for what we do in their name; the Commission accountable for what they do; and equally the Council of Ministers accountable, too.

As we know, meetings of the Council of Ministers currently take place behind closed doors. If we knew how our Ministers and our Prime Ministers vote in their secret meetings, we would be able to hold them to account in the national parliaments – hold them to account not on how they report but what they say in those meetings and how they vote. It would also, I believe, destroy the media myth that unpopular measures from Brussels are imposed on national governments, whereas the contrary is true. National governments have to agree.

It is also about building trust between the EU and its citizens, whereby a mixing of concepts from Member States and EU should be avoided. That is why I believe that at EU level, we should become a model for our Member States on transparency. I will use the remaining amount of my time at the end of the debate to respond to any points and to any questions that arise during the debate.

 
  
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  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents is an important right for citizens and it is our responsibility to make such access as broad and as easy as possible. At the same time, we are the guardians of other fundamental rights, such as the privacy of individuals or the protection of intellectual property rights. None of these rights can claim precedence over the others, and we must protect them all; therefore, our institutions have the responsibility to strike the right balance amongst sometimes competing interests. Our proposal from 2008 reflects this delicate balance.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we discussed the first report presented by rapporteur Mr Cashman. At that time, the European Parliament decided not to vote on the draft legislative resolution and to refer the report back to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Regrettably, no real progress was made since, despite my standing offer to have a genuine dialogue on the core elements of our proposal.

In the meantime, the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force and required adjustment to the 2008 Commission proposal. This was duly highlighted in our communication on the consequences for pending proposals of the entry into force of the Treaty, where we suggested that these adjustments were included in the ongoing legislative process.

As there was no progress, the Commission decided in March this year to submit a separate proposal with a view to making the current regulation compliant with the new Treaty. Let me be very clear. The extension of the scope to all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies is a legal obligation under the Treaty and therefore should not be controversial. This is why I have suggested a swift and separate discussion on this rather technical amendment, leaving the door open for further discussions on other changes to the regulation.

I regret that this pragmatic and constructive two-step approach has not been followed by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and that the report we are discussing today actually merges the two Commission proposals. This means that the implementation of the legal obligations under the Treaty, the actual creation of a new right for citizens, is now being postponed until the three institutions agree on full-scale review of the regulation.

In the meantime, citizens will have no full, formal access to documents coming, for example, from the European Council or the External Action Service. This agreement risks taking time and I am afraid that, given the amendments proposed in the report, agreement on changes to the regulations is not within reach. I cannot, of course, anticipate the position the Council will take on the proposed amendments but many of them cannot be accepted by the Commission.

Firstly, and because the Lisbon Treaty has extended the principle of access to documents to all institutions, bodies, agencies and offices of the EU, any common set of rules needs to feed a greater number of bodies with very different mandates and competences and this requires a sufficient degree of flexibility.

The proposed amendments do not go, however, in this direction and some of the amendments would even significantly weaken the protection of legitimate interests. For example: no exception to refuse access would apply to legislative documents. It means we would need to grant access to early drafts of legislation and to legal opinions. The institutions would simply have no space to think. This is going too far in our view and we cannot rule out the need to protect a document at least temporarily.

Another example concerns non-legislative documents where legal advice would no longer be protected if the rapporteur’s amendments are carried through. Finally, it would also be impossible to protect personal data or sensitive documents after 30 years. Besides protecting legitimate interests and a space to think, we must also ensure that the regulation is used to disclose documents to the public in the public interest, and I would underline and repeat: in the public interest. This is its ultimate objective.

From our experience, however, the regulation is regularly misused by lobbyists or law firms with a view to obtaining information serving their own private interests. As these requests mostly concern very voluminous files – 50 000 pages is not an exception – the Commission considers that the handling of such requests is excessively resource-consuming, with no added value for citizens. Therefore, the Commission proposes some clarification to the scope of the regulation. These proposals would not affect legitimate requests and our estimates would not impact on the numbers of the requests granted. They are aimed at better protecting public resources and a well functioning administration, but they have now been simply removed from the report with no clear justification.

Finally, a substantial number of amendments concern provisions of the regulation which the Commission did not propose to amend. We are not adopting a new regulation but amending an existing one, using recasting. I simply recall that the scope for substantive changes open to the legislator is bound to follow those parts included in the Commission’s proposal. Such is the agreement between the three institutions on recasting, which dates from 2003.

To sum up, the Commission will look carefully at the amendments that will be voted by this Parliament but, let me be very clear, many cannot be accepted by the Commission.

Though disappointed by the lack of progress so far, I hope that a real constructive dialogue can take place between the three institutions after the vote, with a view to reaching an agreement. I would also like to repeat what I have said on previous occasions. The regulation is part of the EU policy on transparency but we can do a lot beyond formal legislation: we can improve registers; we can improve user-friendliness and accessibility; we can be more active in dissemination and documents can be published faster. I can bring some more examples. The real objective of transparency is to bring our institutions closer to citizens through an active policy of informing them and making them aware of how Europe-wide policies are elaborated and may affect their daily lives.

I look forward to the constructive and thought-provoking discussions to come. The subject deserves it and our citizens are entitled to expect a clear and well-functioning legislation on public access to our documents.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. (FI) Madam President, I wish to thank the rapporteur, Mr Cashman, for his excellent levels of cooperation while the report was being drafted.

Recent years have shown us that it is very difficult to make any progress in the area of transparency at EU level. The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force a good two years ago, emphasised the importance of transparency, but, unfortunately, it has not yet materialised at any practical level. I particularly lament the fact that, despite all it has said about the importance of transparency, the Commission has not consented to issue any proposals that might have increased it. On the contrary, its proposal that was presented in 2008 would have limited and lowered levels of transparency. I think that was very regrettable.

Despite everything, Parliament has been able to amend this proposal by the Commission, and now, in any case, we cannot go back, so, instead, we should take a few step forwards, in accordance with this present proposal by the Committee. It is unfortunate that the largest group in the European Parliament, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), opposes these proposals and increased transparency, and voted against the entire report. Hopefully, however, tomorrow, when we have the vote, the situation will alter.

In my opinion, it is important that ordinary people have access to information. Commissioner Šefčovič mentioned here that a problem exists with respect to access to summit meeting documents, for example. Now I would like to raise another timely issue, which is the transparency of the European Stability Mechanism: for example, the Court of Auditors of the European Union is unable to access its documents or perform an audit, another case of a lack of transparency, as in so many other matters.

Let us hope that we can take a few small steps forward, and that, in future talks, there will be an emphasis on transparency and a public approach to issues, and that we will find consensus.

 
  
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  Ágnes Hankiss, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Petitions. (HU) Madam President, any initiative that urges the extension of transparency and the development of good administrative techniques is a welcome one. In times fraught with crisis, it is a fundamental interest of citizens to have a clear picture of what aspects and facts underlie political debates and institutional decisions. However, if we were to extend access to information to just about everything and intended to implement this by somewhat propagandistic exaggerations, then our noble gestures could easily achieve the opposite effect.

Access to documents cannot be without limits. It cannot extend to cases where access to information would violate other fundamental rights, by which I particularly mean sensitive personal rights or, from a different perspective, security-related Community rights and interests. Therefore, if such access would violate or impair the aforesaid, this inherently valuable effort itself could turn to the wrong side. The balance of our fundamental rights must not be overturned, since they are one of the guarantees of European democracies. This is one of the reasons why I sincerely regret that we cannot support this otherwise important and respectable report by Mr Cashman, as in our opinion, its concept is exaggerated and one-sided on many points. Still, I sincerely regret this because its basic objective is very important.

 
  
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  Renate Sommer, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Madam President, there is no doubt that this House supports transparency and openness towards citizens. Obviously, my group, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), does so, too. However, this report goes way beyond the actual goal. Existing legislation and interinstitutional agreements are ignored and the protection of competition cases and sensitive and personal data is treated with contempt. Among other things, this massively violates data protection, which we so vehemently support in other contexts. Are we now to sacrifice the privacy of the global population? This is precisely the risk we face with this report, because administrative procedures and decisions, which also include personnel matters, for example, are to be made public. The same applies to the protection of business secrets and sensitive information within the framework of approval procedures, court cases and competition cases.

With its definitions that are vague, far too broad and lacking in clarity, the report also allows public access to these types of documents, as documents are taken to mean any data or content connected in any way with the policies, measures and decisions of all bodies and institutions of the EU. This largely also includes preparatory, confidential and secret documents, as well as all associated information. Thus, the definition covers not only documents, but also information. Even information from ongoing interinstitutional processes, such as informal trialogue negotiations, will have to be made public.

Do you really know what that means, Mr Cashman? It means public access to procedures. It means public influence on the decision-making process. In that case, we might just as well sit the lobbyists at the table and let them negotiate! Is that what citizens want? I cannot believe that that is the case.

In addition, documents relating to non-legislative procedures – measures dealing with internal organisation and so on – are also to be made public. Where is the public interest in that? Is this not more likely to obstruct our work?

This report is not in the interests of our citizens. It will result in a flood of useless information. It will make our work impossible and, above all, it is unacceptable to the other institutions because it contravenes current legislation. You are aware of that, Mr Cashman, and by doing this you are essentially working against greater transparency and against the citizens.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová, on behalf of the S&D Group.(SK) Madam President, in contrast to the previous speaker, I believe that the transparency of the legislative process of the EU is something, according to my group, without which there can be no talk of legitimate European institutions or EU democracy as such.

Today, we must, unfortunately, state that the Commission has failed to respond sufficiently in the current draft regulation to the new framework of the Lisbon Treaty and, in some respects, the draft regulation is more limited than the previous version. The most notable step is the reformulated definition of ‘document’ in Article 3, the concept that lies at the very heart of the regulation. In our opinion, instead of narrowing the definition of the concept of ‘document’, it should be expanded to include official information. The access of applicants to specific pieces of information would make it possible to request particular information in a more precise, targeted and comprehensive way. It would also avoid the receipt of large quantities of unnecessary information, provision of which entails additional cost. The new definition could also make it easier to get partial access to certain classified documents, and would make it possible to clearly differentiate between unofficial and official information.

Mr Šefčovič, I have no doubt at all that the provision of full access to all the documents of closed infringement proceedings is also extremely important to you. In our opinion, however, the Commission proposal, which gives Member States the right to refuse access to documents on the basis of their laws, is contrary to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and it is therefore unacceptable to us.

 
  
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  Sonia Alfano, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(IT) Madam President, I first of all wish to thank Mr Cashman for his excellent work and, in particular, for his great patience.

As we all know, democracy is based on making legislative work public, on the transparency of the decision-making process, and on the people’s right to make informed decisions. For this reason, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Treaties have proclaimed the fundamental right to access documents and information.

This right must be guaranteed for all citizens, from local to international levels, in order to ensure that the institutions carry out the task for which they were created: to work on the citizens’ behalf in a transparent manner. Transparency is essential to prevent and combat corruption and the infiltration of the institutions at all levels by organised crime and powerful interests.

I am particularly satisfied because the report on the amendment of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding access to documents has accepted some important amendments which I submitted, in particular, those on financial and budgetary transparency, on the beneficiaries of European funds, on how EU money is spent, and on how European policies are implemented, all of which can be accessed via a database on the Internet.

Other amendments submitted by me are included in the report, establishing rules for accessing information in electronic format contained in European databases, rules to limit exceptions to document access, especially when they refer to European legislative procedures, and rules for overriding the power of Member States to veto the publication of documents.

The ALDE Group will therefore vote in favour of the Cashman report and I hope that the majority of this Parliament will support it, despite the opposition of some Members who have induced their groups to follow the interests of economic bureaucratic and industrial lobbies or those entrenched in the defence of the class and its secrets.

The ALDE Group moreover asks the European Commission and Council to accept the proposals of the European Parliament and, under the Danish Presidency, to launch negotiations so as to finally take the necessary steps forward to assert the fundamental and democratic right of citizens to acquire the knowledge they require in order to make their decisions.

 
  
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  Judith Sargentini, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(NL) Madam President, democracy is not easy. A democracy demands openness. Democracy demands that people are able to check whether a decision taken on their behalf is the right decision. We now no longer have a direct democracy but rather representatives of the people, and we have ministers in institutions such as the European Council. However, it is still of the utmost importance that what we do is checked by another person. And it would seem that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) still wants an old-fashioned form of government, one that says to the people: ‘Just go to sleep; we will make sure everything is alright’.

However, in a Europe of 27 Member States, or perhaps of 26 Member States plus one, it is absolutely crucial that we are able to weigh up which country or group is in favour of which interest. Mistakes can be made more easily behind a closed door than behind an open one. We should therefore give Europeans access to decision making. A closed door also leads to more euroscepticism. How at present do you know for sure that your minister has done the best for you? He can tell you so at home, but you are unable to check it. And this is what this European Parliament must stand for.

I find it naïve that the Commission, the Council and also the Christian Democrats should simply be saying ‘no, it would just be bothersome and we do not want to bother European citizens with all this; it will only waste time, and we would have to have the lobbyists at the table with us’. The lobbyists are already sitting at the table, and I would like to know which lobbyists sit on which table and who is influenced by them. That is why the European Parliament and the people are calling for openness.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Cymański, on behalf of the ECR Group. (PL) Madam President, the draft regulation we are discussing has a chance of improving the transparency of the European institutions’ functioning in the eyes of the public. If the principle of transparency also covers the bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, then, by analysing their work through easier access to published documents, the citizens themselves might reach the conclusion that, in some cases, the expansion of the EU’s bureaucracy represents an excess of form over content and that its maintenance is not always necessary, especially in times of crisis.

In this context, it also does not seem correct to me that if new posts are created for officials, it is for information officials. Efforts to ensure that any natural or legal person in the European Union has access to full and exhaustive information should be a right and a task for all employees according to their area of competence. At the same time, with a view to increasing transparency in the technocratic application and making of law, a positive requirement of the draft regulation is the widening of citizens’ access to also include documents implementing delegated acts. Information on security aspects should be afforded special protection.

 
  
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  Cornelis de Jong, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(NL) Madam President, let us not fool ourselves. For us MEPs, Brussels may be the centre of our work, but Brussels is a long way away for the average citizen. A recent survey also indicates that, throughout Europe, citizens have less and less confidence in European policy. More than half of them consider that poverty in Europe has risen thanks to Brussels.

The traditional reaction is then to explain to the citizen one more time. The information budget of the European institutions is enormous, but all this sending out of information does not work. Today’s citizen is no longer a passive recipient. He wants to be heard and that his voice should count. He decides for himself what he wants to know.

In his proposal, the rapporteur opted for a strong approach which gives citizens a greater – and not, as the Commission wants, a lesser – right to information. I am grateful to him for having taken my proposals on board to make documents concerning Council negotiations not automatically inaccessible to the public. It is precisely in the negotiation phase that the citizens want their voice to be heard and we should not deprive them of that opportunity.

There will be difficult negotiations with the Commission and the Council, and this is why the rapporteur needs the support of the entire Parliament. I therefore hope that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) will quickly come to its senses and vote in favour of the citizens rather than resigning itself to backroom politics.

 
  
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  Auke Zijlstra (NI).(NL) Madam President, we are today discussing openness. Openness of documents, processes and decision making. Openness is necessary for a democracy. Openness is the fundamental difference between a democratic society and dictatorships.

The question thus arises of how it can possibly be that the openness we desire was not part of the Treaty of Lisbon from the very outset. Can it be that the reason is the European project is an elite game that cannot tolerate openness? Can it be that it would immediately fail if the citizens were to know what is going on here? Whatever the case, Dutch citizens pay as much as EUR 5.7 billion annually to be members of the Union. They at least want to know what we get up to with their money.

Madam President, now that the truth is known about a number of Member States, the Union is tottering. That truth concerns enormous financial deficits and an increasing lack of democracy. The citizens are turning away from a Union which threatens their wellbeing and does not want to hear their voice.

The United Kingdom has now rightly opted for its national interest, the interest of its citizens. The interest of the citizens should, after all, be the starting point for every Head of Government and for the European Union as a whole. Openness regarding decision making is necessary but will no longer save the current Union – and that, Madam President, is something that we can all be open about.

 
  
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  Simon Busuttil (PPE). – Madam President, to put things into perspective, the first thing we should say is that the EU institutions are already amongst the most transparent institutions in the entire European Union. The EPP Group is committed to transparency and we have shown this recently in a vote we took in favour of the Hautala-Sargentini report on public access to documents. But unfortunately, the report we are debating is a case of a good thing taken too far. Instead of increasing transparency, it risks undermining the work of the institutions and therefore it does not serve the interests of our citizens. Let me explain why.

According to this report, the minutes of the negotiating meetings we hold when we make laws with the Council and the Commission – trialogue meetings – would have to be made public. Now, if we do this, none of the negotiating parties involved will want to adopt a flexible approach for fear that what they say will be reported in public and will weaken their negotiating position. How will this benefit citizens, may I ask? It would make weaker laws, not better laws, because those involved would not take a flexible approach out of fear that what they say will be publicly reported in the name of transparency. They would not be allowed the space to think, the space to present different negotiating options and the space to adopt constructive positions.

So, despite its good intentions, this report will not lead to further transparency. It will just undermine the institutions’ work in favour of citizens. It turns a good idea into a bad one. That is why the EPP Group will vote against this and continue to work constructively in favour of more transparency that makes sense.

 
  
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  Tanja Fajon (S&D). (SL) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a time when the confidence of our citizens hangs in the balance. This makes it more important than ever that our institutions act as transparently as possible.

I congratulate rapporteur Cashman for his continued efforts to increase public access to documents in all the Union’s institutions. This is in the public interest.

Slovenia was one of a number of like-minded countries that advocated the need for increased transparency. Our citizens deserve to be properly informed. Indeed, setting a good example at a European level can also significantly affect right of access to information at a national level.

By backing this report, we will support the decision of the courts of the European Union, which have repeatedly ruled in favour of transparency. We will reject the option of an unconditional veto by Member States over access to documents which they themselves have sent to institutions, and secure a speedy appeal process where access to documents is refused.

I do not believe that greater public access to our documents will paralyse our work. Open doors, ladies and gentlemen, strengthen confidence; closed doors regrettably lead to isolation.

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE). – Madam President, the Commission, the Council and the EPP talk a lot about transparency, but they seem to be paying lip service only. I find quite shocking the contrast between the debate on transparency and the ceremony we had earlier when granting the Sakharov Prize. Ms Sommer just said in German – I wrote it down – that she is against

(DE) ‘public influence on procedures’.

In other words, we cannot have citizens actually influencing procedures. Ms Sommer, I think that is precisely the point: to give citizens the power to influence the procedure. Secrecy is the legacy of the old Europe that was shaped by diplomats. In the Europe of today that is a political union, a union of the citizens, we need to give them the instruments to shape the European Union themselves.

Finally, transparency may also be awkward for ourselves. We should not only be talking about the Commission and the Council: this House should lead by example and show a culture of transparency and accountability.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Renate Sommer (PPE), Blue-card question.(DE) Madam President, I cannot let that pass. I did not say that citizens should not have any influence on ongoing legislative procedures. I said that lobbying would use this to get its claws in. That is completely different, Ms in ’t Veld. I will not allow myself to be disparaged by you in that way. I am very much in favour of us making our policies clear to citizens, but I am opposed to you spreading such nonsense here and attempting to make out that all of this is a complete farce – a grand show for the citizens. It is blind populism, which, at the end of the day, will make our work here impossible.

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE), Blue-card answer. – Madam President, first of all, Ms Sommer says that lobbyists should not have influence on the procedure, but what are lobbyists? A human rights organisation or an environment organisation – are they not lobbyists acting on behalf of the citizens? Or lobbyists may be representing interests of patient organisations, for example.

Secondly, I still do not understand her point. We are arguing for more transparency in order to make the current lobbying, including industries, visible where now it is taking place behind closed doors. They are influencing policy making today, which is not a bad thing, but it should be visible.

 
  
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  Gerald Häfner (Verts/ALE).(DE) Madam President, only a few decades ago, the philosophy in large parts of Europe was that individuals did not count, the state was everything. Citizens were nothing other than subjects of the state institutions with no rights. What we have been continually working for here – and in this regard, access to documents is only one aspect among many – is to turn this relationship between citizen and state on its head and to place it on a new foundation. Access to information and transparency are essential prerequisites for democracy. Citizens cannot exercise their civil rights, have an influence on policy making or express their opinion without having sufficient access to information. That also means that the institutions need to understand that they are not superior to citizens, but rather they are there to serve them.

In this regard, I would like to add – and this is directed at Vice-President Šefčovič and others who have said this – we do not need to make every cough transparent. There are also procedures where confidentiality is justified. However, we cannot simply claim that confidentiality is justified in a particular case. We cannot just classify something as ‘confidential’; there needs to be a proper procedure for this. Where there is disagreement and doubts exist, it must be possible for this to be decided by the court. That is fitting for a modern, democratic society and an approach that follows the rule of law.

We are seeing an increasing tendency for the interests of lobbyists and businesses to have a direct influence on political decisions. We will only be able to restore confidence if the citizens know that they have extensive access to documents.

While we are regulating this here, we can see that more and more institutions are being created outside the Treaties. What this Parliament and the Commission should focus on is placing what is currently happening in unlegislated areas firmly within Community law and making what we are debating here applicable to all institutions.

 
  
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  Angelika Werthmann (NI).(DE) Madam President, the EU’s decisions should be taken in an open and citizen-centred way. The review of the legal framework relating to access to the documents of EU institutions was a litmus test for the European transparency initiative. The amendments relating to the definitions set out and the exceptions laid down in the legislative text should be supported.

I would also like to address the question of guaranteeing access to documents. We must do this by also ensuring that the documents are easy to find. We are all aware of the enormous amount of information and large numbers of documents that we produce on a daily basis. Even we almost despair when we are searching for a particular document. It is the same for our citizens. Therefore, we must make the information available to citizens in a simple and transparent way.

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, if I were a people trafficker, a terrorist, an opponent of a successful European Parliament or an opponent of democratic structures and decision-making processes, then I would vote for this report by Mr Cashman. However, as I am none of those things, I will vote with full conviction against this report.

We are all in favour of transparency in political decision-making processes. We are all in favour of better access to documents for citizens. However, in his report, and with your support, Mr Cashman goes much too far. Look at the definition of ‘document’, where he states that anything connected in any way with the policies, measures or decisions of all bodies and other institutions of the EU must be included. That means that, if Mr Cashman’s proposals are adopted, all debates that we hold anywhere during the course of our decision-making processes within our groups or delegations will also be included. If we make strategic preparations in order to protect the interests of Parliament, for example, in relation to the Council, these will also be included. The content of informal trialogues, also in the interests of the European Parliament, or strategic planning discussions in Europol or Frontex, will also have to be included if you and Mr Cashman have your way.

It means that anyone who supports this report will make successful policy-related parliamentary work impossible, reduce the effectiveness of the European Parliament and help criminal organisations to carry out their work. Anyone who votes for this report will not be increasing transparency for citizens. Voting for this report will instead support political naivety and, in some areas, also the abuse of European laws.

Commissioner, I was very pleased by your statement, and you will certainly have the support of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats). You Mr Cashman, on the other hand, will most definitely not.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE), Blue-card question. – Madam President, I would like to know if Mr Pirker considers it normal parliamentary manners to equate colleagues who are going to support a report with criminals?

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE), Blue-card answer.(DE) Madam President, Ms in ’t Veld, you are doing to me what you did to Ms Sommer. You are twisting my words. I explained the reasons why we are voting against this report, namely, because it is not acceptable, for example, to publish and make publicly available the strategic considerations and discussions of an organisation whose job it is to combat crime, because you cannot combat crime in that way.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur. – Madam President, I am afraid that was a deliberate attempt to mislead this House. It is quite clear to me from the opposition that is coming from the EPP Group that they have failed to read the entire regulation. You cannot select one article or one recital; because there are checks and balances.

Mr Pirker, I ask you to go back, read the regulation in its entirety and look at the exceptions covered in Article 4. All of the concerns raised here this afternoon are a mere camouflage because of the fact that you do not want to give citizens their right of access and accountability.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). (LT) Madam President, I would firstly like to thank our colleague, Michael Cashman, because he really has carried out a considerable amount of work and I wish him success in fighting to give European Union citizens full access to documents. Indeed, my question is why the Commission’s proposal did not include provisions on additional applications for information, the implementation of the principle of good and open administration in the transitional period, provisions banning any kind of discrimination, as well as provisions prohibiting refusals to give citizens information on grounds of possible technical issues or perhaps other discrepancies? My question is therefore what are we trying to protect ourselves against and what are we trying to protect? After all, what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of our citizens who elected us and in whose name we have to work? The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which entered into force along with the Lisbon Treaty, clearly provides that European Union citizens have a right of access to EU institution documentation, whatever its medium. Our task as representatives of the citizens is therefore to ensure that this right is implemented properly and transparently.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken (Verts/ALE).(DA) Madam President, I would like to thank Mr Cashman for his excellent report. Please try to remember that, despite everything – and this is something that I want to say to Mr Šefčovič – it is we here in Parliament who represent the people. We are the ones who know that if the people do not gain more confidence in our system, we will lose the fight for the EU and the EU’s credibility and influence. We are, in fact, at a very critical juncture at the moment, and it is therefore disheartening to hear the Commission and individual Members here speaking as if what was important was the security of officials and politicians. It was as if it was them – and ourselves – that we should safeguard rather than our citizens. It is the confidence of our citizens we are dealing with here.

There are exceptions. I have worked with disclosure for very many years, including in the Danish Parliament. Of course there are exceptions. It is always a struggle to define these exceptions so that they do not become excessive. It is not something that is simply a foregone conclusion in itself – there is always a fight to ensure openness and security. The security that we are to provide for officials comes from the fact that they are within a system in which there is mutual trust. There is plenty of room for error without anyone being killed as a result. However, there is no room for error when it comes to providing transparency for citizens. I therefore very much hope that action will be taken in the Commission and, for that matter, in the Council, too.

 
  
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  Dimitar Stoyanov (NI).(BG) Madam President, 12 new Member States joined the European Union recently, making huge sacrifices while they were joining the EU. The 15 old Member States also made huge sacrifices as part of European integration. All this was done with the idea of creating greater solidarity, of how the people who were to the east of the Iron Curtain would receive huge benefits.

However, I can tell you that ordinary citizens in my country, Bulgaria, are finding it difficult to exercise their rights in the European Union. The reason is that they cannot find out from anywhere how to do it. The current situation is creating a Euro-oligarchy where only those with internal access to this information can exercise their rights. This is wrong and must be stopped.

This is why these amendments tabled before us now (which are not from Mr Cashman, but are the result of many years of work by four parliamentary committees) are better than the proposal from the Commission, and I urge you to support them.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, transparency is vital for the link between Europe’s citizens and its institutions. It helps reinforce the EU’s legitimacy. In fact, the Treaty guarantees the right of public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, but a suitable legislative framework is required to exercise it.

Although the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), of which I am a member, supports greater transparency, it cannot support Mr Cashman’s report in its current form. Some proposals not only exceed the provisions of the Treaty, but also the interinstitutional agreements in force. If unlimited public access has to be given to all the documents and information from Europe’s institutions, this may have a considerable adverse effect. In the case of ongoing legislative procedures, the negotiations very often required to reach an agreement will be affected.

Transparency is important, but must not be applied to the detriment of security and the respect for privacy. I think that personal data, commercial secrets and classified or sensitive information are not given sufficient protection under the form proposed. In addition, it is likely to be extremely difficult to implement this in practical terms, given the huge number of documents involved.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). – Madam President, the European institutions’ administrative practices need to be open to greater public scrutiny and such scrutiny will undoubtedly improve citizens’ confidence in their European public bodies.

Commissioner, in my own country, the Freedom of Information Act 1997 has revolutionised the ways decisions are made by public bodies and by public officials. If a decision maker believes that his or her determination may be the subject of a freedom of information request, he or she will be much more diligent in ensuring that proper procedure is followed. This is what legal scholars term the virtuous cycle of public administration.

However, notwithstanding all of this, the fees incurred by individuals under the current freedom of information system in Ireland acts as a barrier to full access to public information. These fees can be up to EUR 150 per request, and EUR 20 per hour if the document has to be searched for and retrieved. So, whatever system is decided upon, I would encourage my colleagues to take cognisance of the problems in the Irish context concerning fees when deciding on practical issues in this proposal. I welcome the fact that this legislation is intended to cover not only Parliament, Commission and Council but all EU public bodies, excepting the derogations in relation to the banks. Thank you Commissioner for listening.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE). – Madam President, I believe that this 2001 regulation must be updated. Article 1 of the Treaty provides that decisions should be taken as openly and closely as possible to the citizens. I am in favour of a more inclusive list of EU institutions being covered by the new regulation.

Every European citizen has the right to access EU documents and this right should be respected. The exceptions must be subject to guidelines that are harmonised across all EU institutions and justified in the public interest. These guidelines must be clear, accessible, predictable and easy to understand and implement.

I would like to make a second point about lobbyists. All information relating to lobbyists must be made public. Otherwise, we are speaking about corruption and not about lobbying.

I would like to make a third comment. I take this opportunity to again request the Commission to ensure real transparency concerning the beneficiaries of the EU funds in the Member States, on its website, in one of the three working languages, and on the basis of common criteria. This is also access to information, and we need to know how EU money is spent in the Member States.

 
  
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  Marita Ulvskog (S&D).(SV) Madam President, it is 10 years since the EU got its first transparency regulation. Now, when citizens’ trust in the EU and politics is badly damaged, it is more important than ever that we open up as much as possible. Mr Cashman’s proposal is a good one. It contains a number of important improvements, for example, that every document must be evaluated individually and not in batches, that transparency should be the general rule and secrecy the exception, and that protection of personal data must never be used as an excuse to refuse access to documents.

However, I do see a problem with the classification contained in the proposal. This could be used as a surreptitious way of over-classifying documents. Consequently, I would like to go further than most of the other speakers. This is because we have come so far when it comes to transparency in a number of Member States. In my country, transparency works extremely well and it strengthens democracy. I have one question for those of you who do not want to go a single step along this road. What are you frightened of?

 
  
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  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (PPE). – Madam President, in times when there is sometimes the feeling that Europe is complex and far away, it is even more important for us to give a clear commitment on transparency and openness. The message we send to the people of Europe is that we have nothing to hide that concerns them and their lives.

In fact, we encourage them to be involved in what we are doing. We want them not only to follow but also to participate in what we are doing; not only to accept the final result of our deliberations but also, prior to that, to take part in the decision making. On our draft proposals, they can influence us by their views. We encourage public debate on our work. We really care that they get a picture and that they have a chance to understand, if they so wish, what is going on in the Strasbourg and Brussels buildings. They decide what is relevant for them. They pick and choose. Most importantly, they have the right to check and to hold us accountable for what we do and say when we represent them on their behalf.

Bridging the democratic gap with our citizens has to be done in a responsible way. Privacy, personal data, personal integrity should not be put at risk by disclosing informal information. In Sweden, we have a strong tradition of access to documents, but it is also normal to have some information that is classified. A climate of confidence is necessary to achieve complex negotiation like trialogues. Widely displaying pieces of information is not openness. Openness does not mean WikiLeaks.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Madam President, public access to EU documents must be seen as the basic right of the citizens who elect EU bodies to access information on the work of the institutions that represent them.

I understand the approach of the Commission, which left in the legislative process the recast version of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, and supplemented it in March this year with a second draft introducing extended rights of public access to documents of all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union under Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. I see the approach taken by the Commission as an effort to achieve the desired changes more quickly. I agree with the comments formulated in the minority opinion under Article 52 paragraph 3 of the Rules of Procedure, as some of the amendments proposed in Mr Cashman’s report go somewhat beyond the necessary framework of information publication in achieving the necessary level of public control. I firmly believe that the good intentions of the Commission to expand public access to EU documents must be developed in a qualified way, and that we should not continue with counter-productive disputes over the publication of discrete information, which, for various reasons, is really not suitable for dissemination.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Madam President, freedom of information was one of those universally popular objectives, or at least I thought so until this afternoon, although few contemplate the justified exceptions and even fewer choose to exercise this right. Possibly one reason might be lethargy or lack of interest, but another might be ignorance that there is anything to look for. I think it was Donald Rumsfeld who distinguished between what we know we don’t know and what we don’t know we don’t know. In the case of the former, we can employ our knowledge to seek the unknown, but in the latter case we cannot seek a document the existence of which we are entirely ignorant.

Perhaps there should be a publicly accessible register of documents, or some proactive attempt to make sure that lobbyists know of them. There is also the problem that discussions which are very sensitive, but not classified or legally restricted information, might take place without a paper or electronic record or that discussions by e-mail might be routinely deleted. Is it anticipated there might be any rules preventing documents being destroyed or prescribing that record should be taken and should not be destroyed?

 
  
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  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Madam President, you, I and the rapporteur, Mr Cashman, are, according to Ms Sargentini, from the ‘plus one’. Well, let us hope that is ‘minus one’, and according to most of this Chamber, you will probably be most happy.

I welcome the strong approach taken in this report; it is right and proper that transparency is given its correct importance. I am unsurprised by Mr Cashman wanting this because for the pro-Europeans in the UK, it is becoming a much more difficult job trying to sell the European Union and the secrecy of the European Union: its unaudited accounts or unsuccessfully audited accounts have, for many years, been a difficult sell within the UK. Something will need to be done.

I would point out that it was the Labour government who brought in the Freedom of Information Act in 1997 in the UK and it ultimately caused them a lot of problems. I am unsurprised that they are hoping to put the Conservative Party in a difficult position in the Council, although they were very disingenuous when they were in power. I do sound a note of caution though on what I hear from the Commission, which is that they have no intention of being transparent, nor does the EPP when they are talking about undermining institutions and about a legitimate report. Who will decide what a legitimate report is? They will never allow transparency because they do not want it.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE). (SK) Madam President, approval of the directive on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding is fresh in our minds. This is the so-called Maternity Leave Directive. The European Parliament amended the text of the directive so much that, after almost three years, it is almost impossible to find a consensus between the institutions, and that is to the disadvantage of EU citizens. Looking at signals from the European Commission and the Council, I am convinced that this text will meet a similar fate. If we strip people naked in airports because we suspect that they have explosives under their dresses or trousers, they will stop using aircraft. You are now presenting a text requiring institutions, agencies and other bodies to parade naked in front of the world. It is refreshing and new, but not very helpful. I would support it only if the aim was to put people off a federal Europe.

 
  
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  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, I would like to thank the honourable Members for a very lively debate, which clearly demonstrates the importance of ensuring clear rules for citizens’ access to EU documents. This is the objective of the regulation and I am very glad that it was underlined by several speakers, starting with Ms Sommer.

The discussion was wide-ranging. Of course, I will not be able to respond to all the comments or all the points raised, so allow me to take this opportunity to set the record straight on some of the critical remarks on the Commission’s proposal.

First, I would like to give Ms Monika Flašíková Beňová and Ms Jäätteenmäki assurance as to the definition of ‘documents’. The proposed regulation would not lead to fewer documents being disclosed than is the case today; a more precise definition of ‘documents’ means safer administration and more clarity for the citizens. As I have already stated, many requests for competition files running to thousands of pages are made by lawyers of the companies concerned for reasons that have nothing to do with the aim of transparency. These requests do not lead to the public disclosure of documents, but create a huge administrative burden and search. These requests are made in order to create a competitive advantage over competitors or to circumvent investigation. This burden is very great in the files related to the protection of the single market.

Therefore, we believe that our proposed definition mainly clarifies the situation. On the exceptions relating to the legislative process: I believe – as do many speakers in the House – that to have a limited space to think is necessary, as was pointed out by several speakers, Mr Pirker, Mr Busuttil and others.

Here in the European Parliament, several of you reflected on what consequences the proposed amendments by Mr Cashman would have on the proceedings of the Conference of Presidents or ongoing trialogues, for example. I believe that you will agree that internal discussions must be frank, which requires a certain degree of confidentiality as regards the opinions expressed. This confidentiality must be balanced against the public interest of transparency on a case-by-case basis, as was pointed out by Mr Alfano.

A few words on the next steps. As I have stated, the Commission is looking forward to discussions with the colegislators and will participate actively with a view to reaching a balanced compromise. In light of the progress of these discussions, the Commission will decide on further steps and will do its utmost to contribute to finding common ground between the colegislators.

In the meantime, the Commission will continue to work proactively on increasing transparency. I cannot accept some of the claims that the Commission is against transparency; that we are trying to get a rollback on transparency. That is definitely not true. We are very much continuing with our transparency initiative. I truly believe that the EU institutions and the Commission are among the most transparent in the world. They would stand comparison in this respect to any Member State in the European Union.

Take the transparency register for example. We have already more than 4 600 companies registered and more that 22 000 people covered. I would very much welcome the support of the European Parliament in being even more proactive in raising awareness of the transparency register. Help us to get more law firms registered in the transparency register so that they send us fewer letters asking for documents which the Commission has to study very carefully if they are not related to ongoing investigations. They should be enrolled in the register. Why are they refusing? Help us there and I think we will do a greater service to transparency in the European Union.

Next year, thanks to the great assistance and help from this Parliament, we will start with the European Citizens’ Initiative. I think that this will be another test for all of the EU institutions: how we can react, how we can communicate and how we can exchange views and reconnect with European citizens. I think this will be further proof of how the European Commission and how the EU institutions communicate with citizens.

I would like to thank all the honourable Members for their active discussion on this file. I am open for constructive cooperation and I believe that, if we really focus on the balanced approach, we can achieve this goal.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ROBERTA ANGELILLI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, rapporteur. – Madam President, I look forward to negotiating with the Commission. That will be a first, so let us meet soon.

I would just like to address some of the points. We actually enshrine the concept of a space to think; we do not diminish it. We actually enshrine the concept of classified documents, Mr Pirker, so it is absolutely clear that documents that are restricted, classified or confidential cannot be made public. Equally, we deal with the issue of documents coming from Member States. Member States would like to have a veto so that they cannot be placed in the public domain, whereas there are cases where they should be, such as documents in competition law proceedings and for businesses. I believe that if Articles 4(2) and 4(7) of the current regulation are used appropriately, then there are sufficient guarantees for competition cases and for businesses.

This approach is not about unrestricted access. We have to be clear about definitions, clear when documents cannot be made accessible, and equally clear when they can. We must reflect the jurisprudence that has been handed down, and we must balance data protection and privacy.

Let me say that it is entirely wrong to say that privacy and personnel maters will not be respected. They are absolutely respected and the data protection supervisor says that in our report, we have got the balance absolutely right. I would remind you that there is also a directive on data protection which cannot be overridden here. There is also the Members’ Statute about political meetings, about the conduct of MEPs and about personnel which cannot be overridden within this regulation.

It is either mischief or it is ignorance that causes people to propose such suggestions. Can we please stop treating our citizens, and indeed the NGOs that represent them, as children? They want to be engaged in the political process, and if they do not know what we are doing in their name, and what the Commission and the Council is doing, how on earth can we call ourselves ‘democratic’? Democracy is based on openness and accountability and, if we can only negotiate in secret, where is the democracy in that?

We negotiate on the basis of principle and on what we wish to actually defend for our citizens and indeed our political parties. If we can only do that in secrecy, I am not one of those politicians and I do not belong to one of those political parties that concur.

You can criticise this but, Ms Sommer, I have begged you time and time again to work with me and to bring forward compromises, but comprises came there none. Where there are problems, I am happy to address them on behalf of the entire Parliament because the brilliant thing is that whether this gets voted through or not tomorrow is neither here nor there. Whether the Commission accepts this is irrelevant. Whether the Council negotiates on this is irrelevant, because what you cannot do, which is what the Commission and indeed the Council are trying to do, is to diminish the rights they gave to citizens in 2001. So even if we reject the entire proposal, the rights that were enshrined in 2001 under the Swedish Presidency will remain.

I think I have covered most of the points. Can I say that inflexibility in democracy is actually a weakness. Flexibility is a strength, and we show that in our committees when we negotiate with one another and we reach compromises. Thank you, Ms Macovei, thank you, Ms Bildt, for your constructive comments. I would say to Nikki Sinclaire that the Labour government actually supported these measures in 2001 in Council and the Labour government continued to do so while it was in office. If we are pro-European, let us actually get rid of the secrecy because then it is much more difficult to misrepresent the truth.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Renate Sommer (PPE), Blue-card question.(DE) Madam President, I would like to clarify one point. The rapporteur said, in effect, that, as negotiator for the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), I refused to accept compromises. That is not true. We shadow rapporteurs had a great many meetings, but the rapporteur’s proposals for compromise put to me as representative of my group were such that I essentially only had the option of supporting his opinion. The rapporteur refused to accept any of the proposals for compromises put forward by the PPE Group and, in the end, he explicitly shut us out, even with regard to very trivial matters. That is the truth that also needs to be said.

Secondly, the rapporteur just said ‘there is a directive on data protection which cannot be overridden here’. Well, if you read the text of your report, recital 18 states: ‘Due to the fact that this regulation directly implements Article 15 TFEU as well as Article 42 of the Charter, the defined principles and limits for access to documents should prevail over any rules, measures or practices adopted under a different legal basis by an institution, body, office or agency and introducing additional or stricter exceptions than the ones provided in this regulation’. So, let us also have a little bit of truth here.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman, Blue-card answer. – Madam President, I welcome the comments by Ms Sommer.

We often accuse technology of many things, but I have never received one compromise amendment from the EPP Group. If you have them, even as late as today, I will consider them this evening and, if necessary, adjust my voting list because, as you know, Ms Sommer, I am always reasonable.

On the issue of data protection and the balance, can I just say to you, do not take my word for it, but take the word of the European Data Protection Supervisor who believes, looking at the Bavarian judgment case, that we have got the balance absolutely right. I would refer you to my Amendments No 10 and No 40, which balance absolutely the right of privacy and data protection.

As I started, let me finish again: thank you very much for your comments. If you have compromise amendments, as late as this evening, I would still like to review them.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, Thursday, 15 December 2011, at 11.30.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. (CS) The long-running process to increase openness within public administrations goes back to 1998, when the so-called Aarhus Convention was signed. The submitted report on the regulation strives to minimise the documents to which the public has no right, introducing the greatest possible level of information and openness to decision-making processes. The basic principle of the regulation is the so-called principle of active openness, which entails the active publication of all documents created by EU bodies. The amendment to the regulation introduces the obligation for every administrative unit to appoint one employee responsible for providing information at the request of citizens. An obligation is also introduced for the active publication of documents and also for the new implementation of a common interface linking the document registers of individual EU bodies. This measure should make it possible to link up individual registers, thereby increasing citizens’ access to documents. The obligation to make available all information on decision-making processes is also newly introduced in respect of each stage of decision making. I would like to end by emphasising that, in the spirit of the Aarhus Convention, all information shall be provided free of charge, thereby avoiding the creation of further barriers to greater openness and awareness.

 
  
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  Erminia Mazzoni (PPE), in writing. (IT) The Cashman report on public access to documents of the European institutions takes into account a fundamental value enshrined in the Treaty, which is that of transparency. The conditions laid down for the implementation of this right can be found in Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, which is to be amended by this legislative procedure. In its proposal, the Commission assumes an ‘open’ position, which I think the rapporteur wishes to extend far beyond the goal of transparency, placing at risk the protection of personal and sensitive data. Mr Cashman also defines as a ‘document’ any information or content which in some way relates to the policies, measures and decisions of any EU institution, also including preparatory, confidential and informal documents, that is to say, any piece of information. The ‘space to think’ is thus reduced to a minimum. I believe that the value of transparency and the democratic participation of citizens in the life of the institutions is of fundamental importance but this should be reconciled with other fundamental values, such as the protection of personal and sensitive data, and should concern official documents, but not ‘the procedure …

 
Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice