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The EU Council, which represents the governments of member countries, is known as the most secretive of EU institutions, writes Stephen Gardner. But its arguments for not releasing documents have recently become rather circular with a refusal to give access to information about... access to information!

Council officials have refused requests from a British environmental campaign group, ClientEarth, to see legal advice on plans to change EU rules on granting access to documents. ClientEarth is concerned that, by modifying definitions and processes, the EU institutions will be able to put in place a tighter information clampdown. For example, "document" is presently understood to mean "any content whatever its medium", but under the proposals, drafted by the EU's civil service, the Commission, this will be modified so that it only relates to information that is considered to have been "formally transmitted".

The European Parliament has rejected many of the proposals, making its views clear through reports prepared by Eastender-turned-Eurocrat Michael Cashman. But the Council refuses to reveal its hand on that basis that... the European Parliament might find out what it is! Somewhat confusingly, the Council claims that "the legal advice is to help the Council in discussing issues with the European Parliament [and so] making that legal advice public and, therefore, accessible to the European Parliament does not seem possible." So much for cooperative and open decision making!

ClientEarth has now filed a case with the lower court of the EU Court of Justice in an effort to force the release of the documents. But EU justice grinds so slowly (cases on average taking 18 months to two years), that the access to documents deal might be done long before judgement is pronounced.

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