Openness is an important principle on which the European Union (EU) is founded. Regulation 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents sets out a code for access to documents held by these institutions. It is the EU equivalent of the freedom of information regimes found in the UK and other states. The Commission has proposed a revision of this Regulation. This report, "Access to EU Documents (HL Paper 108)", highlights the extent to which the proposal would preclude disclosure both of documents submitted to courts in the course of litigation and documents arising in the course of investigations, even in the face of a strong public interest in disclosure. The Committee feels such an exclusion is, in principle, justified in respect of court documents where the court itself can make provision for disclosure. A controversial issue is how far confidentiality is required for formulating policy (particularly to ensure that policy makers receive frank and open advice) and for negotiating legislation. The report looks at the relevant provisions of the proposal, particularly in the light of recent judgments by the European Court of Justice, and highlights the differences in the approaches of the European Parliament and the Government. These documents should not be given absolute immunity from disclosure but should be protected subject to any overriding public interest. The Committee also concludes that the effect of the proposal to amend the rules on disclosure by the institutions of documents which they hold but which originate from Member States would significantly reduce the existing right of access.
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