Commissioner Wallström does not provide an amended Commission proposal for the Cashman report, although the Lisbon treaty makes the older Commission proposal for a EC/1049/2001 reform obsolete. She makes some encouraging points on the criticial reform aspects:
Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, honourable Members, if I may first turn to Mr Cashman. I think this is the last possibility or opportunity that I will have to say thank you to you. You are indeed the face of the fight for this particular regulation and for openness and transparency in Parliament. You have become the face, the symbol and the advocate of it.
I also think that we have a great deal of credibility, being Swedish, both Cecilia Malmström and myself and I do not think that people will doubt that we will continue to fight for openness and transparency. At the same time, we have had our rows because we also play different roles and sometimes we have to be very realistic about what we can achieve and we have to fight our corners in each institution. That is not always easy. I think the whole political climate has also changed and the political balance has changed and that has affected our discussions on these issues.
But our starting point, I would say, is absolutely the same and we also state that this particular regulation on access to documents has served us very well. Over the years this has been an excellent tool that we also want to be used by more than the lobbyists and those who are paid for looking at all the documents. We want the general public and journalists to be able to use it and have full access to documents. That is my starting point. I know that I share this view, as you could hear, with the Minister.
I think also the Swedish Presidency was a golden opportunity to move this issue forward. Now I really want to thank Parliament for the opportunity to have this debate on transparency and the new Lisbon Treaty because it places more emphasis on openness and what is called participatory democracy. We all agree that this is a most welcome development.
The concrete question on the table today is: What measures will the Commission take with regards to the revision of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001?
As you know, with the Lisbon Treaty, the public right of access to documents has been extended, as we heard the minister saying, to documents of all institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union. Although there are some restrictions for the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank for natural reasons.
Concerning the review of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, I want to point out that the new legal base, Article 15(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, is very similar to the former Article 255 and the main difference is the extension of the institutional scope.
This issue was addressed by the Commission in our Communication on 2 December this year. This was aimed at aligning pending proposals for secondary legislation to the new Treaty. (Some of you here may know it under the EU jargon as the ‘omnibus act’ – let’s forget that the minute I have said it!)
It means that either of the legislators can now introduce an amendment extending the scope of the Regulation to the other bodies and institutions. This is also to let the Council know that this has been presented by the Commission and adopted by the Commission.
Further progress in the legislative process leading to the adoption of an amended Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 is in the hands of the legislators: Parliament and Council. We are still in the stage of the first reading. We do not have a legislative resolution and we do not have the position of the new Parliament. Of course the Commission will go on to contribute to reaching an agreement – as in other legislative processes.
The Lisbon Treaty lays down a legal framework for participatory democracy. From the Commission’s side we have already taken a number of initiatives aimed at improving public consultation and participation on proposed new policies. For example, we will assess the Commission’s consultation guidelines against the new provisions of the Treaty and decide whether adjustments are necessary to further improve them, and we have already started the work on the citizens’ initiative by launching a public consultation, to listen to the citizens and the stakeholders before presenting a proposal.
The great importance of the citizens’ initiative was also recognised by the European Council last week. And the incoming Spanish Presidency, I have understood, has put this very high on the agenda. They want rapid delivery.
This morning, as we have already heard, the Interinstitutional Committee on Public Access to Documents met at the invitation of the Swedish Presidency. The task of this group is to examine best practice, address possible conflicts and discuss further developments on public access to documents.
So we decided together that we will have an ‘Openness’ web portal, we will have complementarity of our institutions’ public registers; we will have our respective IT services sit down and coordinate their access efforts and we will now consider the impact on access to documents when our institutions create or change electronic storage systems.
I know that this is the time of year when you write wish lists. But I think when it comes to openness and transparency, you should not rely on Santa Claus. I think it is really up to us to deliver now: Parliament, Council and Commission. Real concrete and direct delivery. I think we have already started and we have to continue on this track so I am looking forward to our debate.
Mr President, this was a very effective way of softening me up a bit as I now speak for the final time. I could not have chosen a better subject on which to make my last intervention in the European Parliament – which it probably is – than on openness and transparency.
Let me just state some basic facts. The European Commission has provided a proposal. It is the only proposal on the table. We did it in the shape of a recast, which means that we think the basic principles in this regulation are sound; they are OK. We can use them but we have to modernise them, upgrade them and make them more effective. This was the whole idea behind the recast.
We have some different views on a few things – how to define documents etc. – but these are still the kind of negotiations that we should engage in and make sure that we move things forward. To do that, we need a first reading from Parliament. This is the basic message from our side.
We also think, on the basis of a new Treaty, that we can do it by expanding the scope of this regulation. That is the main difference, as we see it in the Commission. It will now cover all the bodies, agencies etc. of the European Union. This is where we are today, so we still hope that Parliament will now provide, as soon as possible, a first reading. Then we can also have the views of the Council so that we can enter into proper discussions and negotiations and finally have a decision.
Regarding a number of very important issues that you have also raised, Mr Cashman, in your report: I think there are other means that we can use as they are a bit outside the scope of this regulation. But they are still very important initiatives. They have to do with registers, with things we discussed – today, for example – where we can improve openness and transparency, through other methods and not only through the Regulation. This is where we will continue. I know you do not like it very much, but I have taken the initiative to make an openness action plan, parts of which we discussed today, where we can join hands and make efforts to continue on openness and transparency and fight for that.
On that positive note – I really want it to be a positive note – I would like to thank you all and I also want to use the opportunity to say ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’ to all of you.