Documents from closed-door meetings between EU institutions must be made public upon request, Europe’s second highest court said on Friday.
The EU’s General Court has ruled that the European Parliament must provide access to information relating to three-way negotiations between the EU institutions, known as trilogues.
“The European Parliament must in principle grant access, on specific request, to documents relating to ongoing trilogues. The work of the trilogues constitutes a decisive stage in the legislative process,” the court said.
Before EU laws are approved, representatives from all 28 member states, who make up the EU Council, gather in Brussels in order to agree on a common position for each proposal. This position then serves as the member states’ mandate during the final negotiations between European Commission, Parliament and the EU Council.
Although this is an effective and democratic process in theory, transparency issues may arise due to lack of information and public scrutiny.
The Greens, one of the main political groups in the European Parliament, hailed the ruling as a victory for transparency in the process of EU decision making. The group also said that the Parliament must now accept the decision of the court, which can still be appealed.
Heidi Hautala, a Green member of the European Parliament from Finland, said in a statement:
“Citizens have a right to be able to follow and scrutinise the negotiations for the laws that govern them. The European Parliament must now accept that these documents must be treated the same as other ordinary legislative documents.”
Success! European Court of Justice just recognised that democracy isn’t possible without transparency. Negotiations between @Europarl_EN, @EUCouncil and @EU_Commission must become more transparent to allow citizens to follow and scrutinise them. Read more: https://t.co/OHeZsHBsRo pic.twitter.com/Dff6OS6VUa
— Greens in the EP (@GreensEP) March 22, 2018
The case was first brought to the court in 2015 by Emilio de Capitani, a former civil servant in the European Parliament who was denied access to documents on draft EU laws that were discussed at the time.
EU institutions can deny access to information relating to trilogues on the basis that disclosure may hinder the negotiations.
As part of a separate investigation, the European Environmental Bureau asked governments whether they would support EU proposals to boost recycling targets and waste prevention. Some countries refused to respond but eventually came out with a position following pressure from civil society and media.