I just filed a maladministration complaint with the Ombudsman against the European Parliament for systematically lying about the existence of documents:
The European Parliament cultivates secrecy.
On 21 June 2011, the coordinators of the International Trade committee (INTA) decided to ask the Parliament’s legal service an opinion on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The INTA committee’s Chairman, Mr Moreira, sent a letter to the legal service. In the letter, the Chairman allegedly left out a question on safeguards against disproportional criminalisation. While this was known in Parliament, no Member took action to solve this. I requested, among other documents, the coordinators’ minutes of the INTA committee.
The European Parliament services denied the existence of INTA coordinators’ minutes four times. Under EU law Institutions can refuse access to documents in some cases. But EU law does not provide a possibility to deny or obfuscate the existence of documents.
After I provided proof the documents do exist, the Parliament sent them to me. But even then, the Parliament denied the existence of Legal Affairs (JURI) committee coordinators’ minutes a fourth time – while these documents do exist. The Parliament systematically lies about the existence of documents.
The Parliament also denied the existence of Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) committee coordinators’ minutes. I have an indication such minutes do exist as well. Chances are, all committees have coordinators’ minutes.
In the course of this, it became clear INTA, JURI and AFCO coordinators took decisions regarding ACTA, which were not announced in the committees themselves. These decisions were illegal for two reasons. First, the ACTA text had already been published, the discussions should have taken place in public. Second, coordinators can prepare decisions, but can not take them.
In violation of art 103 of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (“utmost transparency”), Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union, Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, European Parliament committees (coordinators, Chairs, secretariats) cultivate secrecy.
It became clear not all Parliament documents are filed in the Parliament’s document management systems, a violation of article 11 Regulation 1049/2001. The Parliament is almost 10 years too late.
Furthermore, the Parliament sends its decisions in paper version by mail. Upon request, the Parliament can provide a non machine readable scan of the paper version. This makes it hard to make an annotated version, to file a complaint. The Council also sends paper versions, but in that case the final draft can be downloaded from the Council’s register. The Parliament states that the paper version is the only version available, but that can not be true, since the paper version is made from a machine readable draft (a word processor file). Again, the Parliament does not register all document (versions) in the register. This seems also to be a violation of article 11 Regulation 1049/2001.
A8818/MJC/en, / A13018/MJC/en, A13018/MJC/en2
On 8 July 2011, I requested, among other documents, the minutes of the coordinators meetings, both open and in camera, which relate to ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), of three committees (International Trade, Legal Affairs, Constitutional Affairs).
On 28 July, the Register informed me: “No separate minutes for the Coordinators meetings exist”.
On 5 August the Register wrote: “The right to submit a confirmatory application only applies in the event of a total or partial refusal. We did not mention the possibility of a confirmatory application because we did not send you a formal refusal. We sent you the link where to find certain documents requested or we informed you that other documents did not exist.”
On 17 August the Register wrote: “Perhaps we should have included the following main elements in bold: The right to submit a confirmatory application only applies in the event of a total or partial refusal. We did not mention the possibility of a confirmatory application because we did not send you a formal refusal. We sent you the link where to find certain documents requested or we informed you that other documents either did not exist or the Parliament does not possess copy of them.”
The Register also wrote: “We can only provide existing documents recorded in one of the EP document management systems.”
On 21 August, I asked the INTA committee itself. I filed (another) confirmatory application on 17 September.
On 28 September, the INTA committee denied the existence of coordinators’ minutes: “You have been informed by the Parliament’s Register reply of 5 August 2011 that there are no detailed minutes of in-camera meetings”.
On 5 October, I could finally present proof the coordinators’ minutes do exist. I urged the secretariats to record all existing documents in one of the EP document management systems. Then the Register can provide correct information from the start. Then the public can appeal against decisions to keep documents confidential.
On 25 October I received the documents.
The story did not end here.
On 20 November 2011, I kindly thanked the register for sending me the minutes of the INTA Coordinators meetings dealing with ACTA. I reminded them that I had also requested JURI coordinators’ minutes and that the Parliament had denied the existence of these coordinators meetings
three times. I requested them again.
On 28 November the register wrote: “In reply to your request and following information obtained from the JURI secretariat, we confirm our reply provided last July: the JURI committee secretariat does not elaborate separate coordinator’s minutes.”
On 10 December I asked further questions.
On 13 December (A15212) the register advised me to contact directly the JURI secretariat in order to obtain the relevant information. “We can not help you further on this issue.”
So even after I proved the Parliament lied about the existence of documents, the Parliament went on denying the existence of (other) documents. I know Legal Affairs coordinators’ minutes do exist as well.
The Constitutional Affairs committee appointed its Chair, Mr Casini, as rapporteur on an ACTA related matter (interpretation of Rule of Procedure 128). At least, at some point he was rapporteur for this matter (See, for instance, committee minutes 14 -15 March 2011). The appointment itself is not recorded in any public document. While this is not a major flaw, it seems to indicate the decision was taken by the coordinators, and not validated by the committee itself. This is also an indication that coordinators’ minutes do exist – otherwise decisions would not be recorded at all. Which would be a violation of transparency rules on its own.
Regarding illegal decisions:
On 13 July 2010, the coordinators of the INTA committee decided to commission an external study on the impact of ACTA on access to medicines. This decision involves spending of tax payers money.
On 25 October 2010, the coordinators decided to convert the study on “Impact of ACTA on Access to medicines (AVC)” into a fully fledged ACTA Impact Assessment.
On 21 June 2011, the coordinators of the INTA committee decided to ask the Parliament’s legal service an opinion on ACTA.
INTA coordinators’ minutes 21 June: 2011 http://people.ffii.org/~ante/acta/INTA-minutes/Coordinators%27s%20minutes%202011%200621.pdf
The decisions are not recorded in the committee’s minutes, apparently they were not announced in the committee itself.
In September / October the coordinators of the Legal Affairs committee decided to ask the Parliament’s legal service an opinion on ACTA. This decision is not recorded anywhere. The decision seems not announced in the committee meeting.
These decisions were illegal for two reasons. First, the ACTA text had already been published, the discussions should have taken place in public. Second, coordinators can prepare decisions, but can not take them.