EU court backs move to prise open bloc's decision making

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, September 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman/

LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - European Union member states must grant public access to documents circulated in their working groups for adopting laws, an EU court ruled on Wednesday, as efforts to prise open the bloc's legislative machine make further progress.

EU states, collectively known as the Council, have joint say with the European Parliament on approving laws proposed by the European Commission and which apply across the 27-country bloc.

Transparency and civil rights advocates have long called for more openness at the Council and Commission discussions on key issues, and that documents circulated among working groups should be made available.

Decisions are often agreed in meetings away from the public gaze and then later rubber-stamped in public.

Emilio De Capitani, a former official at the European Parliament, brought a case against the Council's refusal to make available documents used for approving an amendment to an EU law on annual financial statements.

"The General Court finds that none of the grounds relied on by the Council supports the conclusion that disclosure of the documents at issue would seriously undermine, in a concrete, actual and non-hypothetical manner, the legislative process concerned," the General Court of the EU said in a ruling.

"The Court notes that as the principle of openness is of fundamental importance in the European Union legal order, the principles of publicity and transparency are inherent in the legislative procedures of the European Union."

In 2018, the court ruled in favour of De Capitani in a case he brought against the European Parliament, in which he argued there should be public access to documents relating to so-called 'trilogues'.

Trilogues are meetings between parliament and EU states to thrash out the final version of a law that will come into effect - a crucial stage where last minute deals are struck and new elements can be included.

Reporting by Huw Jones Editing by Mark Potter

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