Issue 2 October 1998
UPDATE ON ACCESS TO COMMISSION DOCUMENTS
In past years, EU institutions have seemed very concerned about widespread 'euroscepticism' among the public. One of the attempts to overcome the confidence gap and "bring the EU closer to the citizen" was the 1994 Commission decision to allow public access to Commission documents.[note 1] The justification for the decision reads "...that transparency of the decision making process strengthens the democratic nature of the institutions and the public confidence".
However, the responses that Corporate Europe Observatory has received to a request for access to documents regarding the contact between the Commission and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) have been disillusioning. Until now, the Commission has been very uncooperative, bluntly refusing to make this crucial part of the decision making process public.
On May 20th Corporate Europe Observatory formally requested access to all correspondence and minutes of meetings held between representatives of the ERT and current EC President Santer, former EC President Delors, and former Commissioners Davignon and Ortoli. With regards to Santer, the office of the President denied us access to his correspondence with the ERT "in view of the informal and therefore private character of these exchanges", adding that no official notes of the meetings exist.[note 2] More direct was the reply concerning former President Delors: "In view of the fact that the archives of the President, Commissioners, former Presidents and former Commissioners are regarded as being of private nature, Mr. Delors has informed us of his wish not to grant you access to his documents regarding the ERT".[note 3] Concerning the correspondence sent by Etienne Davignon in his time as Industry Commissioner, DG III informed us that "after circumstantial search in the archives of our Directorate General, I regret to have to inform you that we do not have the documents in question".[note 4] Finally, although public access requests should be responded to within one month, we still have not received news from DG II (Finance) concerning the correspondence sent by François Xavier Ortoli to the ERT during his time as Commissioner.
We have appealed all of these rejections. The general rule is that access should be available to all internal Commission documents, "including preparatory documents regarding Commission decisions and policy initiatives [...] and other kinds of information which form the background of Commission decisions and policy measures".[note 5] The correspondence between the Commission and the ERT might give some insight into some of today's most important EU policies. Cooperation between the two bodies goes back to the early days of the ERT, when it enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Davignon and Ortoli,[note 6] creating a new link between the Commission and multinational corporations. This link was strengthened during Delors' presidency, when the ERT successfully pushed for the Internal Market and TENs (Trans-European Networks of transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructure) and left clear fingerprints on the Maastricht treaty. This cosy cooperation continued during Santer's presidency, bearing fruits such as the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG) and the institutionalization of public policy benchmarking. Even Delors and other leading EU officials have acknowledged that the ERT was a driving force behind several key EU policies since the 1980s.
In the light of these facts, we hope that the Commission replies very soon to our requests and does not continue to obstruct transparency in these matters. We will keep you updated on new developments on the CEO web page: <http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo>
1. Commission decision of 8 February 1994 on Public Access to Commission Documents (94/90/ECSC/EC/Euratom). |Back to Text|
2. Letter from David Wright, Office of the President, European Commission, 15 June 1998. |Back to Text|
3. Letter from Mary E. Preston, Head of Unit, Secretariat General, European Commission, 10 August 1998. |Back to Text|
4. Letter from Gerard Zahlen, DG III Industry, European Commission, 11 August 1998. |Back to Text|
5. "Access to Commission Documents. A Citizens' Guide". |Back to Text|
6. After their time in the Commission, Davignon and Ortoli joined the ERT as CEOs of Société Générale de Belgique and Total respectively. |Back to Text|