Does the European Council have the right to close its doors?

The European Ombudsman found that the Council did not give any appropriate reason for carrying out its legislation activity behind closed doors.

In the morning of 11th November 2005 the European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros transmitted a special report to the European Parliament’s board responsible for dealing with petitions. In this report P. Nikiforos Diamandouros pointed out that the European Council would have to reconsider its decisions whereas the publicity is excluded from the sessions whenever the European Council acts in its legislative quality. This special report is the ombudsman’s last device to use it only in connection with such important issues to which the Parliament can contribute. In this case, the Parliament’s contribution implies that it should convince an institution or board to change its previous standpoint.

The ombudsman’s inquiry was launched after a complaint was received from Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament and from the representation of CDU’s youth section. For a base for this complaint stands the statement that the Council’s regulation of procedure is not congruent with the first section’s second paragraph of the contract about the European Union (it was modified by the Amsterdam Contract), which declares that public institutions and boards must carry out their decisions with the biggest possible publicity.

First, the complainants addressed an open letter to the Council on 18th September 2003, to which a response by Javier Solana, the Council’s secretary-general was sent. He explained that the Council’s regulation of procedure is congruent with the compromise that was achieved by the European Council in Seville. According to this opinion, thus the main part of the legislation process is accessible for the public. The Council agreed in that the transparency principle – laid down in the first section of the contract on the European Union – bears some considerable importance but they suppose that there should form rather a goal than an absolute rule. It should be their general principle – agreed the ombudsman. However, he suggests, that it should be studied whether it would be possible to let all board sessions, where the Council practices its legislative authority, be open for publicity. If the response is positive, then, it should also be considered whether there is any reason which would make it still necessary to hold a closed session. The ombudsman indicated that the possibility of publicity became increased by regulation of procedure passed by European Council in 2000. Thus, it seems that in a legislation process the realisation of the transparency principle must be and also can be increased.

P. Nikiforos Diamandouros’s final conclusion was that the Council did not give any appropriate reason for why it would be unable to modify its regulation of procedure according to the idea of a bigger publicity.

Access to documents is regulated by the following rules and provisions:

The order 1049/2001 of 30th May 2001 of the European Parliament and Council carried out on the public access to documents of the European Parliament, Council and Commission. The documents qualified as directly accessible can be retrieved from the database of register and can be brought to be seen on the screen. Access to any other document can only be given for application. In cases like this, users must fill out an application for the required document. Access to documents can be limited by the exceptions listed in clauses 4. and 9. of No 1049/2001 order – e.g. public safety, defending and military issues, international relations, financial, monetary or economy policy of a unity or any member state, defending human rights.

Few links to public documents of European Parliament:

http://www.europarl.eu.int/guide/search/docsearch_en.htm

http://www.europarl.eu.int/activities/expert/pv.do?language=HU

Edited by Kapronczay Stefánia

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