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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents

Summaries of EU legislation: direct access to the main summaries page.
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Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents

 

SUMMARY OF

Article 15 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)

Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council on public access to EU institution documents

WHAT IS THE AIM OF ARTICLE 15 TFEU AND OF THE REGULATION?

  • Article 15(3) of the TFEU gives EU citizens, residents and businesses the right of access to documents of the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies subject to certain principles and conditions.
  • The regulation lays down the general principles and limits on access. It aims to ensure that citizens can exercise their right of access in the easiest possible way. Access can be requested to all documents drawn up or received by an institution, in all areas of EU activities.

KEY POINTS

Exceptions and rights of third parties

The institutions can refuse access to a document where disclosure:

  • would undermine the protection of:
    • the public interest as regards public security, defence, international relations and the financial, monetary or economic policy of the EU or of an EU country, or
    • the privacy and integrity of an individual, in particular in accordance with EU legislation regarding the protection of personal data;
  • would undermine a person’s:
    • commercial interests, court proceedings, and legal advice, or
    • the purpose of inspections, investigations and audits, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure;
  • would seriously undermine the protection of the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.

For documents drawn up by third parties, the EU institution must, in case of doubt, consult the third party in order to assess whether an exception applies. EU countries have a stronger right of opposition (though no veto).

Documents in EU countries

Where an EU country receives a request for a document in its possession, originating from an EU institution, it must, in principle, consult that institution to ensure that the disclosure is in line with the objectives of this regulation. The country may instead refer the request to the EU institution in question.

Applications, processing of applications and access to documents

  • The public must apply for access to a document in writing (including by electronic means) in one of the official EU languages. The applicant does not have to state reasons for the application, but has to be precise in their request.
  • Institutions must promptly handle applications for access to a document. They must acknowledge receipt of the application and, within 15 working days of registering it, either grant or refuse access to the document requested. This deadline may be extended once by another 15 working days.
  • In the event of total or partial refusal, the applicant may, within 15 working days of receiving the institution’s reply, make a confirmatory application asking the institution to reconsider its position.
  • The applicant may access documents either by consulting them on the spot or receiving a copy of them, or by receiving information on how to easily obtain them.

Sensitive documents

  • Sensitive documents are certain documents originating from the institutions or the agencies established by them, from EU countries, from non-EU countries or from international organisations, and which are classified as TRÈS SECRET UE/EU TOP SECRET, SECRET UE/EU SECRET or CONFIDENTIEL UE/EU CONFIDENTIAL.
  • Applications for access to sensitive documents may only be handled by persons who have a right to know their content. Sensitive documents may be recorded in the register or released only with the consent of the originator.

Registers and administrative practice

  • Each institution must keep a register of documents. Access to this register should be provided in electronic form.
  • EU countries must cooperate with the institutions in providing information to citizens.
  • Institutions must develop good administrative practice to ensure the right of access guaranteed by this regulation can be exercised.

Publication in the Official JournalMany EU documents are published in the Official Journal. These include:

Reports and application measuresEach institution publishes an annual report covering the preceding year citing the number of cases in which the institution refused to grant access to documents, the reasons for these refusals and the number of sensitive documents not recorded in its register.

FROM WHEN DOES THE REGULATION APPLY?

It has applied since 3 December 2001.

BACKGROUND

For more information, see:

MAIN DOCUMENTS

Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — Part One: Principles — Title II: Provisions having general application — Article 15 (ex Article 255 TEC) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 54-55)

Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (OJ L 145, 31.5.2001, pp. 43-48)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

Report from the Commission on the application in 2016 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (COM(2017) 738 final, 6.12.2017)

last update 14.12.2017

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