The European Parliament's Committee on Citizens' Rights voted by a large majority (the Greens, the EDD and EUL/NGL voted against) on 25 April in favour of a compromise agreement on public access to documents hammered out between the co-rapporteurs Michael Cashman for the Citizens' Rights Committee and Hanja Maij-Weggen (EPP-ED, the Netherlands) for the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Citizens' Rights Committee Chairman Graham Watson, (ELDR, UK) and Swedish Ambassador to the EU Gunnar Lund, (current President of the Permanent Representatives Committee). Commissioner Michel Barnier, who is responsible for institutional affairs, argued the case for the compromise at the Committee meeting.The agreement between the three institutions means that every EU or third-country citizen and legal person will have the right of access to all documents of those institutions with some well-defined exceptions. Waivers will be made to the "transparency" policy for documents where disclosure could harm public interest - in the fields of public security, defence and military matters, international relations and financial, monetary or economic policy and also for documents that would infringe an individual's privacy. Access may also be refused to documents where this would undermine a legal person's business interests, and to documents concerning legal proceedings, inspections and investigations or financial audits, unless it is of overriding public interest that access be granted. These safeguards reassured the Commission, which had criticised the scrapping of "infringement proceedings" from the list of exceptions.Publication of documents for internal use shall be refused if this would seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. The latter measure is, however, too vague to apply to all "preparatory documents" since the Commission's idea of space to think (which would have allowed a much broader interpretation of the exemption clause) was not included in the compromise. Some legal experts argue that it will be necessary to wait for Court of Justice case law to rule on the level of confidentiality to be awarded to preparatory documents. This may well be the case for documents that are never mentioned publicly, such as the internal documents of the Bureau or the Conference of Presidents of the Parliament.In order to enable citizens to make use of their right of access to documents...

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