|Vol.7, No.27, 5.7.01, p2
THE European Parliament is to take the Council of Ministers to court over the introduction of wide-ranging security rules which MEPs say are illegal and overly secretive. MEPs, furious that member states introduced the regulations without consulting them, say the new regulations violate the treaties and are taking the matter to the European Court of Justice.
The 66-page security rulebook, agreed in March, gives detailed regulations on how Council officials should handle classified documents and who should be given access to them. The Council says it is necessary to safeguard military secrets as the institution takes on new defence responsibilities, including the EU rapid reaction force.
But the Parliament says the institution has overstepped its powers. Green group president Heidi Hautala, the Parliament's rapporteur on the issue, said: "There seems to be an overwhelming desire in the Council to please the most secretive member states, like Spain, France and Germany, to give them so many exceptions to the general rules on openness which the treaty says must be put in place."
Among what she claims are the most "outrageous" elements, Hautala cites regulations which authorise officials to destroy secret papers under certain circumstances.
She says this creates a "black hole" into which documents of potentially public interest can disappear. "It could lead to serious violations of the duty of public administrations to leave the documents available for future generations, even if they are in archives closed for several decades," she said.
Hautala also warns that the rules could be used to water down a landmark deal on public access to documents, agreed between member states and the Parliament in May.
She says the security rules were deliberately put in place just before that agreement to satisfy the more 'paranoid' member states.
Parliament president Nicole Fontaine has promised to take the matter to court after the leaders of the assembly's political groups voted to do so last week.
The case is likely to be fought on two fronts. Firstly the Parliament's lawyers will argue the Amsterdam Treaty obliges member states to consult MEPs before introducing such rules.
Secondly they will say the Council has acted beyond its powers because the rules put obligations of secrecy on national governments and other Union institutions and not just the Council's secretariat.
Council secretary-general Javier Solana first made moves last year to install extra protection for documents, in the light of the institution's increased military role and links with NATO.
MEPs were outraged that those regulations were put in place while they were not in session in August.
The latest security rules are intended to flesh out and replace those earlier moves, although two legal cases brought by MEPs against the original "Solana decision" are still to go ahead.
The European Parliament is to take the Council of Ministers to court over the introduction of wide-ranging security rules which MEPs say are illegal and overly secretive.
|Politics and International Relations