This Wednesday, the European Ombudsman confirmed that Member of the European Parliament Dennis de Jong should have access to a legal advice of the Council of the European Union. De Jong: “Three years ago I requested access to the advice of the legal service on possible participation of the Council to the transparency register in full. The Council refused repeatedly but not only did the Ombudsman conclude that my case was justified, she also made the advice of the Council available without censorship. The verdict of the Ombudsman confirms that documents that relate to an inter-institutional agreement between Council, Commission and Parliament are comparable to legislative documents. The Court of Justice concluded earlier this year that legislative documents should in principle be publicly accessible. This enables citizens to have more insight in how the EU decision-making process works, and makes it harder for national governments to hide behind secrecy of European meetings.”
MEP De Jong has been working for years for more transparency of the Council. De Jong: “No-one has any oversight on the decision-making of the Council at the moment. National Parliaments are unable to check which positions ministers and civil servants take in Brussels. But step by step cracks appear in the facade of diplomatic silence. The Council is now unable to hide behind the argument that the transparency register for lobbyists is not legislation, but only an ‘administrative’ matter. Even though the Ombudsman can not take decisions with binding power, the Court of Justice will, if asked, certainly take her considerations into account’.
The pressure on the Council to give wider access to its documents is being increased also via other ways. The European Parliament works on an answer to a special report of the Ombudsman on this topic and 26 Chambers of National Parliaments have supported an initiative report by the Dutch MPs Omtzigt, Leijten and Van Rooijen that adds to the call for more openness. De Jong: “We are making significant improvements, but we are not there yet. The Council may have agreed to publicising Legal Advice, but has not yet agreed to the general recommendations of the Ombudsman. In my comments to her decision, I requested the Ombudsman to further question the Council on this point, because this is obviously wrong.”