EU Ombudsman Slaps Down European Commission For Lack Of Transparency -- Again

from the no-messing-around dept

Back in February, we wrote about the European Union office of Ombudsman, whose job is to hold the EU administration to account, telling the European Parliament to try harder in its efforts to bring some transparency to the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations. A few months later, the Ombudsman took on the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, urging them to publish more TTIP documents:
The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has called on the Council of the European Union to publish the EU negotiating directives for the on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the US. She has also proposed to the European Commission a range of practical measures to enable timely public access to TTIP documents, and to details of meetings with stakeholders. She has opened investigations involving both institutions.

Emily O'Reilly explained: "The EU institutions have made a considerable effort to promote transparency and public participation concerning TTIP. I agree that not all negotiating documents can be published at this stage, there needs to be room to negotiate. However, concerns have been raised about key documents not being disclosed, about delays, and about the alleged granting of privileged access to TTIP documents to certain stakeholders. Given the significant public interest and the potential impact of TTIP on the lives of citizens, I am urging both these EU institutions to step up their proactive transparency policy."
Now she's at it again, calling out the European Commission for refusing to share some requested documents relating to GCHQ spying. Here's the background, as explained by the Ombudsman's draft recommendations for the case:
On 25 June 2013, the complainant, a German journalist, asked the Commission for access to documents in its possession in connection with the surveillance of the internet by UK state agencies (mainly the intelligence service 'Government Communications Headquarters', otherwise known as 'GCHQ'), in accordance with EU rules on access to documents.
It's a fairly involved story, well explained by the Ombudsman in her recommendation. One element concerns a letter written by the UK Foreign Secretary. Here's what happened:
The Commission's position is, in essence, that disclosure could negatively impact on the atmosphere of confidence between itself and the Member state concerned, as the EU courts acknowledged in the Petrie and Technische Glaswerke cases. However, the Commission itself admitted that the Member State concerned, that is to say, the United Kingdom, agreed to the disclosure of the said letter. In these circumstances, the Ombudsman is at a loss to understand how the disclosure of this letter could have the negative consequences to which the Commission has referred. In the Ombudsman's view, it is thus clear that the Commission cannot invoke the above-mentioned general presumption in order to refuse to grant access to this letter.
That is, the Commission persisted in claiming that releasing the letter in question would affect the relations with the UK, even though the UK had said that it wouldn't. Here, the Ombudsman rightly calls out the ridiculous position that the Commission has taken. Perhaps more important for the future is the second element of her recommendations:
The Commission should grant access to all the other documents requested by the complainant concerning the mass surveillance of the internet by UK state agencies, or properly justify why, in its view, disclosure has to be refused.
That's a fine slap on the wrist for the Commission, which is being told to follow the rules here -- either by releasing the documents, or by giving a proper reason why not. The details of the case don't really matter; what's important is that O'Reilly is emerging as a powerful force for transparency within the European Union, seriously trying to hold the powerful to account. As one of the few people daring to do that, she deserves the thanks of not just the European public but also of all those elsewhere affected by EU policies.

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Filed Under: eu, eu obudsman, gchq, negotiations, surveillance, tafta, transparency, ttip

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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 9 Oct 2014 @ 4:52am

    Re: Re:

    Can't remember if it was regarding TTIP or one of the other 'trade' agreements, but I seem to remember one of those involved flat out admitting that the details needed to be kept secret because if the public knew what was in it they'd object. You don't get more blatantly 'This is not being done to benefit the public' than that I'd say.

    It was about TPP and it was a statement made by former USTR Ron Kirk. More details here: -to-public-opposition-then-policy-is-wrong.shtml

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