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Michael Cashman, MEP
"It is an historic change"
 real 56k

Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
EU sets rules on info freedom
Filing cabinet
Hidden away files could now be available for scrutiny
By James Rodgers in Brussels

The European parliament has passed new legislation which allows the public greater access to official documents.

While the result of the vote has been hailed by MPs, it has been criticised by human rights groups for allowing too much information to remain secret.

Michael Cashman
Cashman: Significance for radiation and food safety
Members of the European parliament voted 400 to 85 in favour of passing the new law, which supporters have described as a historic change.

The result was welcomed by the British MEP, Michael Cashman, who prepared the report on which the law was based.

He said it meant that when European institutions took decisions, citizens would have the right to access the information upon which those decisions were based.

He said this would have particular significance in areas of food safety, or the radiation risk from mobile phone masts.

Green discontent

But there are exceptions, and these exceptions have drawn criticism from human rights groups.

Green MEPs were among those who voted against.

They say that the legislation still allows for "considerable restrictions" - particularly in areas such as defence, economic policy, and international relations.

The MEPs behind the new law accept that there are limitations, but they reject the criticism.

As one put it: "Would you go hungry because you couldn't get a three-course meal?"

The rules make most internal EU documents and papers received from third parties available to EU citizens.

Where documents are kept secret, the decision must be justified to the parliament, and an appeal can be lodged with the European Court of Justice.

The legislation now goes forward to the European Union's main decision making body, the Council of Ministers, for formal approval.

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | Europe
EU may open up files
29 Apr 01 | UK Politics
'Euro government' gets cool reception
24 Jan 01 | Europe
Fischer backs off EU 'superstate'
07 Dec 00 | Europe
Fears of a European superstate
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