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2009 02 15 * NOUVELLES-NEWS-EUROPE * Transparency * European Liaison Committee on Services of General Interest


The European Parliament, on 14th January 2009, adopted a report on public access to Community institutions’ documents. Based on the “landmark judgement” made by the EC Court of Justice on 1st July 2008 in the Turco case (see below), which “further reinforces the principle according to which democratic institutions have a duty to ensure the publicity of their activities, documents and decisions [.] and that any exceptions to this principle must be limited and strictly construed” (point 2), the report calls on European institutions, including the Parliament, just as well as Member States, to improve on the transparency of their procedures, and calls for the promotion of a European campaign in favour of transparency in 2009, during the European elections “so that citizens become aware of their right of access to documents of the Union” (point 17).

The Union’s Ombudsman asked the European Commission, on 18th December 2008, to rapidly establish a register of all documents it produces or receives, as should have been done since 2002 (Regulation 1049/2001). The Ombudsman was not convinced by the Commission's position, arguing that the fact that its various services use registers that are incompatible between them renders the exercise impossible. 

Turco judgement: In this judgement, C-39/05 P and 52/05 P, of 1st July 2008, the Court said that the transparency of the legislative process and the strengthening of democratic rights of European citizens are likely to raise an overriding public interest justifying the disclosure of legal opinions. Regulation 1049/2001 imposes, in principle, an obligation to disclose the opinions of the Council’s legal service concerning a legislative process. However, if the context is particularly sensitive, disclosure may be denied and a detailed statement of reasons for such refusal must be provided. The ‘justice and home affairs’ Council had denied Mr. Turco access to documents on its agenda on grounds that, among them was an opinion of its legal service on a proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States and, under such circumstances, the principle of transparency was pertinent to the extent that its application “would make it impossible to deny access to any other legal opinion of the Council”. By this judgement, the court quashes the judgement of the Court of First Instance which, in 2004 in this same case, had followed the Council's position. The Court said that “it is precisely the openness which [...] contributes to conferring greater confidence and legitimacy in the eyes of citizens.”

NOUVELLES-NEWS-EUROPE is published by the European Liaison Committee on Services of General Interest, E-mail :, Publishers : Pierre Bauby and Jean-Claude Boual. Chief editor : Katherine Varin.
Translation : Jeremiah Chiumia. Distributed by E-mail exclusively.