Parliament Bureau's ad hoc Working Group on the General Expenditure Allowance

Interne Prüfung durch Europäisches Parlament wird erwartet.

Dear European Parliament,

Under the right of access to documents in the EU treaties, as developed in Regulation 1049/2001, I am requesting access to:

- The current list of expenses which may be defrayed under the General Expenditure Allowance (GEA)).

- The Proposal, Note and Annex presented from the Secretary-General at the Bureau meeting of 15 May 2017 (which I assume relates to the list of expenses which may be defrayed under the General Expenditure Allowance (GEA)), as mentioned in Bureau minutes http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/or... page 13/44.

- I would also like access to any agenda's or minutes of meetings of the Parliament Bureau's ad hoc Working Group on the General Expenditure Allowance, since it was set up (as refered to in http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/pr... ).

- I would like access to any documents presented to the ad hoc group.

Yours faithfully,

Andreas Pavlou

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

OUR REF A(2017)8791

Dear Mr Pavlou,

Parliament acknowledges receipt of your application concerning documents related to the General Expenditure Allowance (GEA).

You will receive a reply within 15 working days

Best regards,

TRANSPARENCY – ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS
PRES | Directorate General for the Presidency
Directorate for Interinstitutional Affairs and Legislative Coordination
[email address]

Dear European Parliament,

Please pass this on to the person who reviews confirmatory applications.

I hereby submit a confirmatory application to your decision to deny access to two documents identified through my access to EU documents request ref. A (2017) 8791.

In your Decision letter dated 31 July 2017, you identify six documents in response to my request. You provide access to four of these, but fully denied access to two documents on the basis of Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001 as their disclosure “would seriously undermine the institution’s decision making process.” The two documents denied, are:
- A note of the Secretary General dated 5 May 2017, which received the reference PE 602.267/BUR and its annex;
- A list of questions and items to be discussed by the ad hoc Working Group.

I contend that you have failed to properly apply Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001 for the protection of the decision making process. I set out my reasons below, firstly that you have failed to adequately demonstrate how the decision making process would be seriously undermined should the two documents be disclosed. You have also failed to identify any public interest in access to these two documents, should it be determined that the decision making process would be seriously undermined. I also note that you have failed to consider partial access to the documents, should there be any parts of the documents that do not fall under any of the exceptions in Regulation 1049/2001.

I. Failure to demonstrate how the decision making process would be seriously undermined

In its refusal to provide access to the document ‘note of 5 May 2017’, the Parliament stated “Since the decision on the list of expenses is not yet taken, and since it may diverge from the points of view set out in the note, Parliament found that the disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process within the meaning of Article 4(3) of Regulation EC No 1049/2001.” [1]

Regarding the refusal of document ‘list of questions and items to be discussion by the ad hoc group’, the Parliament stated, “The documents sets out preliminary views and opinions the disclosure of which would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process.” [2]

In its Decision, Parliament has failed to strictly interpret Article 4(3) and has thus failed to demonstrate, as required under CJEU case law, precisely how the decision making process would be seriously undermined if these two documents were to be disclosed. If the parliament were to do this, it would also need, according to CJEU case law, to explain how the serious undermining of the protected interest is foreseeable and not purely hypothetical. [3]

Furthermore, it should be noted that the purpose of Regulation 1049/2001 is to provide the “widest possible access to documents” and the second recital in the preamble to Regulation 1049/2001 states that openness guarantees, among other things, that the administration enjoys greater legitimacy, is more effective, and is more accountable to the citizen in a democratic system. [4] As a way to ensure citizens can understand how and for what reasons EU institutions take their decisions as well as hold public officials to account, Regulation 1049/2001 gives citizens the opportunity to request and access positions, including preliminary views, discussed and subsequently adopted or rejected by EU institutions.

Openness incentivises particularly careful and thorough preparation of decisions in order to avoid subsequent criticism. Disclosure can also lead to particularly honest or critical opinions as it would be much more difficult for decision-makers to disregard a well-reasoned position of staff or other services without persuasive arguments if that position is made public. This means the quality of the discussion could be improved by disclosure of the documents.

The Parliament states that the documents set out preliminary opinions on a decision that has yet to be taken, and that as such, the Decision of the Bureau ad hoc working party may diverge from the points of view set out in the note. These do not constitute sufficient grounds for refusing full access to the documents unless it can be determined that there is a foreseeable threat that would undermine the decision making process. It is expected that discussions, even on non-legislative processes, may lead to diverging views, opposition to some of the points, and agreement on others. Access to the documents will not necessarily halt this discussion from happening or impede the decision making process as in fact it would potentially improve decision making by ensuring that views and opinions are properly and fully justified, leading to a more effective debate, increasing the legitimacy of the Decision in the view of the public, and as such, reducing possible criticism for the final decision itself.

II. Failure to consider any overriding public interest in disclosure

The Parliament has also failed entirely to consider any overriding public interest in disclosure of the two denied documents.

In particular, the Parliament has failed to consider the overriding public interest in oversight and participation in the rules around the spending of public money, particularly on something like the General Expenditure Allowance, which has had significant criticism in particular around the lack of transparency and control of the spending of this money. The Committee on Budgetary Control on 30 March 2015 noted that it, “is convinced therefore that structural improvements, for example full transparency and the accounting of the general expenditure allowance, are needed to improve trust and support for Parliament;” (paragraph 31) [5], which was reaffirmed by the Committee on Budgets on 12 April 2016, paragraph 29. [6] The need for greater transparency regarding the general expenditure allowance was also reiterated by the Committee on Budgets on 4 April 2017. [7]

Beyond the institution itself, the General Expenditure Allowance has been highlighted by Transparency International as in need of significant reform in order to make it more transparent and accountable. [8]
Finally, recent media spotlight on the lack of transparency on EU spending (related to Commissioners’ travel expenses) has demonstrated the overwhelming public interest in the spending of public funds by EU officials. [9] Closer to home, the Parliament itself is under increased public scrutiny as the lack of transparency and control over MEP expenses are the topic of a case that will be heard in Court later this year. [10]

III. Failure to consider partial access

The Parliament has also failed to consider partial access to the two documents as required under Article 4(6) of the Regulation. [11] The Parliament has failed to release the parts of the documents that would not fall under the application of Article 4(3). [12]

After considering my reasons above, I request that you provide full access to the two documents in question.

Yours faithfully,

Andreas Pavlou
Access Info Europe

Footnotes
[1] 31 July 2017 Decision of Parliament in response to request A (2017) 8791
[2] Ibid.
[3] Paragraph 31, Case C‑280/11 P Access Info Europe vs Council http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/do...
[4] Regulation 1049/2001 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/register/p...
[5] REPORT on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2013 (2014/2078(DEC)) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getD...
[6] REPORT on Parliament’s estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2017 (2016/2019(BUD))
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getD...
[7] REPORT on Parliament’s estimates of revenue and expenditure for the financial year 2018 (2017/2022(BUD))
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getD...
[8] Transparency International EU Office ‘European Parliament must take action on MEP allowances’ http://transparency.eu/gea/
[9] Politico ‘Commissioners spent half a million on travel in two months’ 9 Aug 2017 http://www.politico.eu/article/commissio...
[10] Investigative Reporting Denmark ‘The MEPs Project’ http://www.ir-d.dk/the-meps-project/
[11] Regulation 1049/2001 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/register/p...
[12] Ibid.

A full history of my request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/parl...

AccesDocs, Europäisches Parlament

Our ref.: A(2017)8791 C

 

Dear Mr Pavlou,

 

European Parliament acknowledges receipt of your confirmatory application,
which will be processed as quickly as possible. You will receive a reply
within 15 working days.

 

Kind regards,

 

TRANSPARENCY UNIT

European Parliament

Directorate-General for the Presidency

Accesdocs(at)ep.europa.eu

 

 

 

Luisa Izuzquiza hat eine Nachricht hinterlassen ()

The replies to both the original request and the confirmatory application were sent by the European Parliament by post. They are available online here:
- Response to the access to documents request: https://www.access-info.org/wp-content/u...
- Response to the confirmatory application: https://www.access-info.org/wp-content/u...