In 2011 the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) discovered that some European Parliament decisions regarding the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were not recorded in any known document. A hidden class of documents (“coordinators’ minutes”) seemed to exist, but the Parliament denied their existence. The FFII filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found a systemic failure regarding the listing of documents in the Parliament’s registry. In response, the Parliament took measures to better comply with EU law. However, the Parliament’s measures are still limited as it did not take measures to ensure all its documents are properly registered. Questions remain.
The European Parliament has committees, which usually meet in public and produce committee minutes. In each Committee, each political group has one “coordinator” and the coordinators are collectively responsible for preparing Committee meetings. The coordinators meet behind closed doors and can take certain decisions, such as which Parliamentarian is responsible for each political file. The FFII requested minutes of coordinators’ meetings, but the Parliament denied the existence of these minutes. If it were correct that there were no minutes, this would mean that certain decisions of the Parliament were not recorded in any way.
On 1 February 2012 a complaint (262/2012/OV) was filed by FFII to the European Ombudsman against the European Parliament for systematically lying about the existence of documents. The Ombudsman formulated the complaint as follows:
“Parliament should register all existing Parliament documents in its electronic Register of documents, in particular the minutes of the meetings of Parliament Committee Coordinators.”
In its draft decision the Ombudsman found a “systemic failure by Parliament to mention, in the public register of documents, the existence of a whole series of documents that relate to the work of Members of the European Parliament (MEP)”, and found that the failure amounts to an instance of maladministration, and recommended: “When minutes of meetings of Committee Coordinators are drawn up, Parliament should include the minutes in its public register of documents and make them, in principle, directly accessible, in accordance with Article 12 of Regulation 1049/2001″.
It is important to note that the draft decision is more limited than the original claim. The claim stated “Parliament should register all existing Parliament documents”, but the draft decision only refers to coordinators’ minutes.
The Parliament stated that the recommendations or decisions adopted by the coordinators will be included in the public committee minutes.
The European Ombudsman announced in its decision closing the inquiry into complaint as follows: “Parliament has taken appropriate measures to implement the Ombudsman’s draft recommendation,” and added a further remark: “In the light of Parliament’s positive reply to the draft recommendation, the Ombudsman trusts that, for the sake of consistency with its new policy adopted after the draft recommendation, Parliament will include in its public register existing minutes of meetings of Committee Coordinators adopted during the 2009-2014 parliamentary term.”
The Parliament declared that “in principle the committee secretariats will not prepare any separate minutes of coordinators’ meetings”. But many questions remain unanswered. What will happen if they act contrary to the principle, if they do prepare separate minutes? Will the document(s) be recorded in the register of documents? The Legal Affairs committee made a coordinators’ workspace, accessible only to the coordinators, political advisers working with the committee on Legal Affairs and the staff of the secretariat. Are the documents in this workspace recorded in the register of documents? Are coordinators’ notes recorded in the register, or is this a hidden class of documents? How many committees have a coordinators’ workspace? And are there any further “walled gardens” out of sight of the registry?
EU Parliament promises to better register its decisions (14.10.2014)
Decision of the European Ombudsman closing the inquiry into complaint 262/2012/OV against the European Parliament (06.10.2014)
European Parliament / Register of Documents: 2014 – Finalised minutes – Committee documents
Maladministration complaint against the European Parliament (01.02.2012)
(Contribution by Ante Wessels, EDRi-member Vrijschrift and FFII, The Netherlands)