Journalists Welcome Court Action Over Council Bid to "Sabotage" Over EU Open Government Commitment

LEADERS of the European Federation of Journalists, Europe's largest journalists' group, have welcomed the decision by the European Parliament, which joins Sweden and the Netherlands, to take the Council of Ministers to Court over attempts to undermine a new Code guaranteeing public access to European Union documents. "The Council of Ministers is trying to sabotage the Amsterdam Treaty commitment to transparency," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the EFJ.

There had been hopes that the co-decision process between the European Parliament and the Council and discussions on a new draft code to revise the 1993 document would open up a new era of transparency. The leaders of the Parliament's political groups agreed on October 19th to take the Council to the Luxembourg Court of First Instance over decisions in the summer that derailed plans for greater transparency.

As a result, says the EFJ, the co-decision process is flawed, and trust between institutions has been broken. The EFJ says that the Council has followed an "uncompromising approach to access that will damage rights of access to a range of documents far beyond those necessary to ensure sensible and careful governance in the public interest."

The EFJ has condemned the actions of the Council on 14 August to unilaterally amend its own rules of procedure, introducing a new classification system and to deny access to all documents which are classified Top Secret, Secret and Confidential concerning the security and defence of the union and to exclude access to any category of linked documents which "enables conclusions to be drawn" regarding the existence of another classified document without express permission in writing of the author (which in this case could be a NATO member State including the United States or Turkey) introducing "the possibility of veto over democratic rights by non-EU states that would be unthinkable in any other area of policy." The Council decision permanently excludes from public access whole categories of documents covering foreign policy, military and "non-military crisis management" - and any other document whether classified or not which refers to these issues.

Nor does it make any distinction between policy-making (which should be in the public domain) and operational details. It is not possible to equate this Decision by the Council to change the 1993 Decision with any conceivable understanding of democratic decision-making. "It was arrogant and contemptuous of democratic standards and must be challenged in the courts," says the EFJ.