European Parliament debate on transparency of ACTA documents

From the European Parliament is a call for more transparency of ACTA documents. This is a report from Sina Amoor Pour of Sweden, posted to the A2K listserve:

For those of you that haven’t heard Eva-Britt Svensson (left party) put forward an amendment in the committee on legal affairs (JURI) to make the Commission release the ACTA documents and the amendment got voted through. But it has to get voted through in plenum too before the Commission can be made to release the documents. So the lobbyist are probably really busy right now, working the MEPs making sure that won’t happen.
//Sina, Sweden

The report from the committee follows:

Access to documents: The European parliament demands more transparency
(Plenary sessions)
Justice and home affairs – 11-03-2009 – 14:30
Descargar el artículo en formato PDF

No legislative documents should be kept secret: this must be a basic principle of the reformed policy on access to documents, the European Parliament says in a vote on a new EU rules on the issue. Members adopted amendments to the draft proposal but postponed the vote on the legislative resolution, leaving the door open for further negotiations and a first-reading agreement.

The European Parliament adopted amendments on the basis of a codecision report drafted by Michael CASHMAN (PES, UK) in order to revise the 2001 regulation on access to documents, which has been followed by a number of rulings by the Court of Justice. The revised regulation will incorporate these rulings into a single framework for all the institutions, but MEPs want to go further.

Legislative vote postponed

MEPs adopted the amended proposal by 439 votes in favour, 200 against and 57 abstentions, but postponed the vote on the legislative resolution in order to leave the possibility for the European commission to modify its proposal, and for the European Parliament to negotiate a first reading agreement with Council after the summer, as a new parliamentary term will start in June. Council will then be chaired by the Swedish presidency, which made a priority of the issue of transparency and already welcomed the Cashman report in a public declaration.

In its report, the House includes amendments clarifying the term “document”, defining it as any data or content, whatever its medium, concerning a matter relating to the policies, activities and decisions falling within the institution’s sphere of responsibility. MEPs also make a distinction between legislative and non-legislative documents: the former should always be available to the public and may not be kept secret on the grounds that this could undermine the decision-making process of the institutions. Measures of general scope adopted by the Council and the Commission without associating the European Parliament shall also be considered “legislative” by way of exception.

Transparency in Member States too

Documents originating from a Member State and received by the EU institutions should also be disclosed, after consultation of the Member state – but this does not give them a right of veto, MEPs say. Member States shall seek to ensure that an equivalent level of transparency is granted in relation to national measures implementing acts of the EU.

The text also protects political activity and independence of MEPs, reminding that documents and electronic records which an MEP has received, drafted or sent are not to be considered as “documents” in the sense of this regulation, as they are covered by the Statute for Members of the European Parliament.

A single EU portal on the web

Parliament added an article on legislative transparency, stating that these documents must be available on an inter-institutional website. Preparatory documents, impact studies, legal opinions and other documents must also be published.

“EU classified”: a new category of documents

MEPs have also devised a scale for classifying documents, from “EU restricted” to “EU top secret”, for documents whose unauthorised disclosure could harm the interests of the European Union or its Member States. Reasons must be given why access to a document is refused. And documents on legislative procedures must not be classified, say MEPs.

Exceptions shall only apply for the period during which protection is justified and may only apply for 30 years, unless the exception relates to the privacy or integrity of the individual.

Financial transparency

Information relating to the EU budget, its implementation and beneficiaries of EU funds and grants should also be public and accessible to citizens via a specific website.

Documents on International agreements to be made public

International accords on the sharing of confidential information concluded in the name of the EU (such as the agreement with the USA on passenger name records or “PNR”), must not give a non-EU country or an international organisation the right to prevent the European Parliament from accessing confidential information.

Members also call the Commission to make available all documents related to the ongoing international negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – which will contain a new international benchmark on intellectual property right enforcement.

A register of lobbyists

MEPs call for an inter-institutional register of lobbyists to be set up, and the names, titles and functions of the lobbyists should be made public, as should those of EU officials, unless this information would affect the privacy or integrity of the individual.

A special oversight committee made up of MEPs should be set up and should have access to classified documents. Each directorate-general of every institution should designate a person responsible for ensuring that the regulation is properly implemented.

Lastly, requests for paper copies of documents must be processed within 15 days, as compared to the 30 days suggested in the initial proposal.

REF. : 20090310IPR51408

See also Nate Anderson’s report from Ars Technica
European Parliament to EU: Turn over ACTA docs! The European Parliament has tacked on some amendments to a transparency resolution, one of which specifically calls for EU negotiators to turn over documents related to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Ars Technica, By Nate Anderson, March 12, 2009

Or this report by Svenska Dagbladet in the Swedish press. Here is the Google translation into English of the Swedish article:
V requires information about Acta
Published: March 10, 2009, 16.13. Last modified: March 11, 2009, 14.38

EU Commission must put the cards on the table and tell me what you want in the negotiations on Trade Acta. It now requires the Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson (V). Tomorrow, she can get Parliament to themselves in their requirements.

This is Acta

Acta stands for Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement.

The initiative for negotiations was taken by the USA and Japan. The negotiations are currently participating EU and its Member States, Australia, Japan, Canada, USA, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Singapore and South Korea.

The next meeting would actually have been held in Rabat in Morocco in March, but has been on the U.S. initiative deferred. The reason is that the Obama administration must look at the questions.

EU member countries gave in April 2008 a negotiating mandate to the Commission. This takes care of that part of the negotiations that fall within Community law.

At the same time, Member States have decided that the Presidency – that Sweden in the autumn – manages the part of the negotiations that fall outside the Community.

According to the Justice Ministry, an agreement is in place before the end of this year or next year.

The agreement will strengthen their efforts against piracy and counterfeiting – whether it is a Louis Vuitton-bag or a Hollywood film.

As previously reported growing criticism of the Trade Acta. Secrecy is high and few know today as the negotiations on the agreement, which will complicate piracy and counterfeiting, really is.

The Swedish Parliament has only nutrition committee briefed on the negotiations. Members had read the classified documents, but rejected today a request from one individual to publish the classified documents that currently are locked in a safe belonging to the Committee.

But despite the offers are not critics. And now, the support from the Left Party’s MEP Eva-Britt Svensson. She has written an amendment to a report on the publicity within the EU to be put to the vote in Parliament tomorrow.

The proposal calls for her to EU Commissioners, who together with President of the country handle negotiations on the EU side, will tell you the requirements and positions they have been in talks on Acta.

– It is an important issue that people need to know. I also understand that there are things you can not publish, but you should at least be able to tell what their line is, “says Svensson

She does not know what negotiations are all about, but has just as many others heard rumors that the customs and police should be allowed to search through personal laptops, mobile phones and MP3 players in the hunt for such as pirated CDs and movies.

Her proposal comes in the context of the EU Parliament vote tomorrow on the so-called Cashman report. It is written by the British MEP Michael Cashman and Parliament’s response to a Commission proposal to the public within the EU.

In Sweden, including Justice Minister Beatrice Ask expressed concern that the Commission’s proposal in some parts of the public sphere in Europe is deteriorating. The Swedish government follows the issue closely, but several other members who were formerly of greater transparency seems to Beatrice Ask to go on the line.

– There is a lot of it is very labor intensive with transparency and that it is administratively difficult, and so on. It is certainly quite correct, but the problem will not solve by changing the fundamental rights of access to information, “said Ash in parliament EU council in February.

Also Eva-Britt Svensson is concerned about the Commission proposal, which contains proposals for increased transparency and restrictions in public.

– Unfortunately, they made a proposal to narrow the definition of what constitutes a “document”, and then of course excludes a great many cases. But Cashman report some improvements, so I hope the House votes on both it and my amendment, “said Eva-Britt Svensson and takes Acta as examples.

– I have linked the issue of democracy and the low turnout and argue that it does not help to urge people to vote if we do not show them that they can inform themselves about the legislation in the EU, “says Svensson.