Statement issued by MINISTRY OF JUSTICE Stockholm, 14 March 1996
Swedish position concerning openness in the European institutions
An increased degree of openness and transparency in the institutions can be achieved in various ways. Sweden favours the inclusion of the general principle of access to documents in the Treaty. Another aspect of openness is to increase public access to meetings. However, this measure would not be the best way to make the Union more open to its citizens as there must always be meetings in the decision-making process that are closed to the public. Otherwise, Member States’ opportunity to discuss freely and to arrive at compromises would be jeopardized.
Due to its longstanding tradition on open government, Sweden considers that the most efficient way to increase openness in the European institutions is to ensure that citizens have access to documents that form the basis for the discussions and decisions. A general principle of public access to official documents guarantees that the activities of the decision making bodies and the administration are conducted under the control and observation of the public.
The reasoning behind a principle of public access is that the institutions must be open to the citizens and the media to enable them to choose the information they wish to obtain, independently of the information services of the institutions. Obviously, it is also important for the institutions to provide information about their activities.
A principle of public access to official documents facilitates possibilities for the European Parliament, national parliaments, associations, individuals and the media to follow and participate in the decision-making process. It therefore strengthens the democratic nature of the institutions and public confidence in the administration. Furthermore, the principle makes the administration more efficient because ail parties and civil servants know that they operate under the public eye.
A general principle of public access to documents must be coupled with rules on secrecy to protect specific confidential interests, such as security reasons, public safety, relations to third countries, business and financial secrets and the protection of individuals and of privacy.
The basic elements of a principle of public access to official documents are already part of the Community legal order. Also, the right of public access to official documents has been recognized in the practice of the Court and forms part of the common constitutional traditions of the Member States. However, it is now time to give the principle a more direct and solid legal basis in the Treaties.
A principle on the right to access to official documents of the EU institutions should be applicable within the institutions themselves. There is no need to harmonize the national rules concerning openness. The Member States will still have the competence to decide how these matters should be handled at the national level, taking due account of the principle of loyalty in Art. 5 in the EC Treaty.
In the light of what has been stated above, the most important elements that Sweden would like to have inserted in the Treaties are as follows:
1. The citizens shall have a right of access to official documents held by any EU-institution.
2. A definition of `official’ documents should comprise both documents that have been forwarded from and submitted to an institution.
3. A catalogue of the specific interests that may restrict the public access to official documents.
4. An obligation for the Council to adopt rules containing the necessary restrictions.
5. A right for the applicant to appeal against a decision by an institution not to give access to an official document
6. An obligation for the institutions to have public registers of all their official documents. The register shall list both public and secret official documents.
7. A right of officials and other servants of the Community to provide information to the media for the purpose of publication. However, the Council should be empowered to impose necessary restrictions of this right
———-This information copyright © Statewatch