FECL 29 (November 1994):

GERMAN GOVERNMENT VAGUE ON TRANSPARENCY WITHIN THE EU

 

The answers of the German government to questions in parliament on its attitude on secrecy within the EU are evasive. This indicates that Germany is unlikely to support Dutch and Danish demands for more transparency within the EU.

 

Gerd Poppe, an MP for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, (Green group), wanted to know, among other things, how the government had voted in the European Council on the various draft directives regarding public access to documents of the Commission and the Council (namely the 'Code of Conduct' of 6 December 1993). In order to make things sure, the MP detailed his question: "Should the Federal Government refuse to answer to question 1: What are the motives?"

In its answer, Ursula Seiler-Albring, State Secretary of Foreign Affairs stressed that the German government was in support of increased transparency, in accordance, however, with the (restrictive) regulations provided by the Code of Conduct and the implementing regulations adopted by the Council on 20.12.93. "As a principle, [these regulations] are applicable only to decisions adopted after their entry into force. A retro-active application is not provided for. The surrender of the complete list documenting the voting attitudes of Germany or other member states concerning the 595 directives adopted since 1989 is therefore not possible".

The answer to Gerd Poppe's supplementary question was laconic: "The Federal Government has already answered question 1; thus, an answer to this question is not necessary; the Government refers to its answer to question 1."

Instead of entering into further detailed questions about the access of the German and the European Parliament to Council and Commission documents, the State Secretary solemnly affirmed that the government "informed" the parliament on a "regular and comprehensive" base. As for the European Parliament, the German ministers of justice and the Interior "informed its competent committees on all aspects in the domain of cooperation on Justice and Home Affairs on 15 September 1994".

The evasiveness of the German government is all the more significant against the background of a case brought to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) by the British newspaper, The Guardian.

The Guardian's case was lodged with the court in May, following the Council's refusal to release documents requested by the newspaper.

The Council has asked the ECJ to reject the Guardian case on the grounds that the repeated declarations by the EU Prime Ministers at summit meetings for more "openness" were no more than "policy orientations" and had no binding effect. The Council further maintains that it cannot make minutes and preparatory documents available because they would reveal the position of different governments who would feel compromised if their views were known.

By choosing not to comment on neither the Guardian case nor the Dutch government's complaint before the ECJ against the 'Code of conduct' (ECJ case C58/94), despite express reference to both cases in Gerd Poppe's interpellation, the German government has lifted secrecy around one topic at least: its obvious lack enthusiasm for more transparency.

 

Sources: Interpellation Gerd Poppe, Gruppe Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Deutscher Bundestag, ref 12/8533, 21.9.94; Answer by State Secretary Ursula Seiler-Albring, ref. 12/8569, 11.10.94; Statewatch, vol.4 no.5, September-October 94; see also FECL No.24, p.5.