Freedom From Information-2

A freedom of information law should be a sign of open and honest government so naturally it is included in the EU‘s rules, though not necessarily in its practice.

All Members of the Commission are expected to make public…all the contacts and meetings held in their capacity with professional organisations or self-employed individuals on any matter relating to EU policymaking and implementation, unless compelling reasons of public interest…require confidentiality.” [1].

In a previous post from 3 May 2019 [2], we argued that:

“The principle of open access to information is applicable only if the Commission decides that the information is in the “overriding public interest” and not harmful to its own interest. There exists no independent authority that can decide what may damage the EU’s decision-making processes or what may be considered to be in the overriding public interest; all such decisions are made by the Commission itself, the de facto supranational government of ‘Europe’.”

Overriding” implies that if the public really, really needs to know then they really ought to be told, but members of the Commission are merely “expected” to share discussions they have with, for example, lobbyists seeking to influence policy-making or practice. Brussels is normally teeming with lobbyists—they wouldn’t bother unless they could influence public policy [3], which is why such information is in the “overriding public interest”.

Our earlier comment related to a document provided by the EU that was heavily redacted. A covering letter on behalf of the Secretary-General of the Commission, in response to a request for access to this document, said. “Some parts of the document have been blanked out as their disclosure is prevented by exceptions to the right of access laid down in Article 4 of this Regulation”; except that the treaties have never “prevented” anything that the EU wished to do.

In the latest example of the EU violating its own laws and promises Peter Teffer, a freelance investigative journalist with the EUObserver, requested access to documents related to video conferences the President of the Commission had held with lobbyists after the Commission’s work had been moved online. At the time he published his article, 19th October, he still had not received the documents, despite the President’s claim that, “Transparency is of particular importance where specific interests related to the commission’s work on legislative initiatives or financial matters are discussed with professional organisations or individuals” [1].

It is clear from Peter Teffler’s article in EUObserver [4] that the EU is trying to avoid making public the documents he requested and we can conclude that the working methods actually adopted will not conform to the above specification.

The response to his request from the secretariat-general (SG) was to argue that, since Teffler had named only two articles and asked for the release of any similar material, the request “does not enable us to identify concrete documents which would correspond to your request…we limited our search to documents related to the two meetings identified in your request”. In other words Teffler was expected to name each document that he supposed existed, without knowing what these were; this was deliberate obstruction and contempt for due process as described in the working methods document.

And contempt for the citizens whose interests are at the centre of the EU’s declared values:

Article 15(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) says that, “Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have a right of access to documents of the Union’s institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, whatever their medium, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance with this paragraph…Each institution, body, office or agency shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent…” [see 5].

We are expected to believe that the EU adopts practices that are consistent with its own principles and rules, but it doesn’t. Many promises have been made, and then broken, about transparency but it seems that such promises are just for show while the practice remains to keep citizens in the dark, in case we spot what is going on and try to resist.

This is just one area in which the EU convinces us that it is not what it says it is.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/working-methods.pdf

[2] Secrets & Obfuscations

[3] Lobbying, Corruption and EU Decision-Making

[4] https://euobserver.com/institutional/149781

[5] EU Treaties-6: Citizens & Subsidiarity


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