On February 1, 2012, I filed a maladministration complaint against the European Parliament for systematically lying about the existence of documents.
The complaint attracted attention from Members of the Parliament. Daniel Cohn-Bendit & Rebecca Harms, Co-Presidents Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament wrote to Mr Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, to ask him to fully cooperate.
The European Ombudsman reformulated my complaint to: “Parliament fails to register all existing Parliament documents in its electronic Register of documents.”
The Parliament sent its opinion on the complaint to the Ombudsman on 31 May. (pdf) In its answer the Parliament states it does indeed exclude ephemeral or transitory documents.
Today I sent the Ombudsman my observations on the Parliament’s opinion. I state that I understand that the Parliament does not register ephemeral or transitory documents. But many more documents than ephemeral or transitory documents are not covered by the Register.
As an example I refer to Legal Affairs committee coordinators’ minutes that according to the Parliament do not exist, but did leak to Erich Moechel’s website. (pdf) (Update: mirror, pdf)
For the complaint, see below or the pdf.
25 July 2012
Dear Mr Diamandouros,
Dear Mr Verheecke,
I would like to kindly thank you for sending me the Parliament’s opinion concerning my complaint.
In point 5 the Parliament mentions an inventory of categories/types of documents. In point 7 the Parliament states that it excludes ephemeral or transitory documents.
The Parliament’s answer does not cover all issues. I understand that the Parliament does not register ephemeral or transitory documents. But many more documents than ephemeral or transitory documents are not covered by the Register.
1. Coordinator’ minutes are not ephemeral or transitory documents. Committees’ secretariats make separate detailed coordinators’ minutes and send them to all Members of the committee involved. They are often lengthy documents. They play an essential role, as they inform the Members of the committee. They may record decisions. Examples:
The Register is unable to tell which committees’ secretariats make coordinators’ minutes, the inventory of categories/types of documents fails here. Worse, when asked, committees’ secretariats gave wrong information about the existence of coordinators’ minutes. I will provide detailed information below. I note I still haven’t received the JURI coordinators’ minutes I requested. They do exist, as a leaked example shows:
2. Negotiation documents are not ephemeral or transitory documents, see below for details.
3. There is a discrepancy between the opinion given now and earlier statements, see below for details.
4. The failing inventory led to associated problems, see below for details.
Many problems are related to committees not sharing documents with the Register. It seems the committees’ secretariats operate as little kingdoms within the Parliament, outside the reach of the Register, and even see no problem in providing wrong information to the Register.
The Parliament should clarify which committees produce separate coordinators’ minutes and update the inventory. The secretariats should provide correct information.
I note my complaint attracted attention from MEPs. Daniel Cohn-Bendit & Rebecca Harms, Co-Presidents Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament wrote to Mr Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, to ask him to fully cooperate.
On 28 July 2011, the Register answered: “As for in camera committee meetings, no minutes are drafted in such cases.”
The answer is not correct with regards to in camera committees’ coordinators’ meetings. The inventory fails here.
On August 5, 2011, under “2. Minutes of in camera meetings.“, the Register wrote: “We have checked with the secretariats of the committees which are of interest to you (AFCO, JURI, INTA). They have explained that they do not produce detailed minutes of in camera committee meetings.”
This information may be correct with regards to in camera full committee meetings, it is not correct with regards to in camera committees’ coordinators’ meetings. At least two (INTA and JURI) out of the three secretariats that were consulted do produce (separate) detailed minutes of in camera coordinators’ meetings.
The INTA secretariat repeated this wrong information to me on 28 September. Only after I provided proof the INTA documents exist, I received them.
I did not consider filing a complaint then, but things got worse. On 28 November, the Register wrote me: “In reply to your request and following information obtained from the JURI secretariat, we confirm our reply provided last July: the JURI committee secretariat does not elaborate separate coordinator’s minutes.”
This information is plain wrong. The JURI secretariat does produce separate coordinators’ minutes. A leaked document shows this.
The JURI secretariat sends the coordinators’ minutes to the JURI Members. Any JURI Member can confirm this.
Even after it had become clear that the INTA committee secretariat had provided wrong information, the Register just naively forwarded the wrong JURI secretariat information.
I still haven’t received the JURI coordinators’ minutes I requested.
As I wrote earlier, there is an indication AFCO coordinators’ minutes do exist as well. The Parliament should clarify which committees produce coordinators’ minutes.
The committees manage the coordinators’ minutes themselves. The Register does not have access to all document management systems – it should.
Under TFEU 218 (10), the Parliament is “immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure” regarding international agreements. Yet, on 17 August 2011 the Register answered: “In our reply we referred to the Commission because only the Commission is in possession of its own negotiators’ notes. Parliament was not party in the negotiations and it has of course no copy of those notes.”
As the Parliament has to be “immediately and fully informed“, it is unfounded that the Parliament would “of course” have no copy of those notes. In fact, the Parliament does have a copy of those notes (they are part of the negotiation documents).
The inventory fails with regards to documents mentioned in the Treaties.
On 8 August 2011 I remarked that there are official Committee decisions not recorded anywhere. I (rightly) assumed the existence of secret minutes. The Register replied on 17 August 2011: “As you will understand, it is not within the remit of our Unit to follow committee work. As a result, we are not aware of the exact state of play regarding every procedure-file in each committee. Therefore we can not reply to all your specific requests for information. We can only provide existing documents recorded in one of the EP document management systems.”
It had become clear that there was a serious problem. Either documents were kept secret or decisions were not recorded. The inventory failed, or there were no documents to list (while documents recording decisions should exist).
I see a discrepancy between the opinion given now and the earlier answer. If there is a serious ambition to list all documents beyond ephemeral or transitory documents, the possible existence of secret documents, not recorded in one of the EP document management systems, should have led to an investigation, and not to the rather helpless answer above.
It is strange that informed citizens have a better understanding about the documents in possession of the Parliament than the Register. This undermines the credibility of the Parliament. The Register seems to lack ambition or its ambition is met with resistance.
I filed a confirmatory application for the documents I did not receive. The Parliament answered: “The right to submit a confirmatory application only applies in the event of a total or partial refusal. We did not mention the possibility of a confirmatory application because we did not send you a formal refusal. We sent you the link where to find certain documents requested or we informed you that other documents did not exist.”
This was a wrong answer, as some of the documents do exist. After I pointed out issues with the Parliament’s answer, the Register replied on 17 August 2011:
“Perhaps we should have included the following main elements in bold:
The right to submit a confirmatory application only applies in the event of a total or partial refusal. We did not mention the possibility of a confirmatory application because we did not send you a formal refusal. We sent you the link where to find certain documents requested or we informed you that other documents either did not exist or the Parliament does not possess copy of them.
We assumed that this was obvious but apparently not.”
A bold answer. After I finally could provide proof the INTA documents do exist, I received them without a word of apology or explanation.
The Registry did not follow the normal procedure after it received my confirmatory application. Normally the Vice-President responsible for access to documents answers confirmatory applications. This MEP has served in many committees and would have known that coordinators’ minutes and other documents do exist. If the Register would have followed the normal procedure, the issues could have been solved much earlier.
It seems the Registry isn’t that high in the Parliament’s hierarchy, and by handling my confirmatory application itself, it did not grab the opportunity to move the issues higher in the hierarchy.
Well formulated. I’m very interested in hearing how this story unfolds. Please keep us posted.