November 2000

Holland gets support in secrecy dispute

Finland has decided to support the Netherlands in its complaint against keeping military documents secret. The complaint arose after the decision made last summer by the Coreper Committee of EU ambassadors to tighten secrecy rules for documents on security and defence policy. The aim is to secure the confidentiality of NATO’s military information. Holland, Finland and Sweden opposed the decision at the time.

In September Holland decided to issue a complaint to the European Court of Justice. The Dutch say that the Council of Ministers did not have the right to make the decision alone, without the consent of the European Parliament. According to a report by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (3 November 2000), Finland has not decided whether it will support a similar complaint made by the European Parliament.

The decision has been called the "Solana decision" because of the role of Javier Solana, the High Representative of the EU for the common foreign and security policy. Solana is seen as the instigator of the change in openness policy.

The change means that the general rules of the Council of Ministers on openness of documents do not apply to documents on security, defence and civilian crisis management which have been classified as extremely secret, secret or confidential. This means that these documents are not included in the general registry of documents. Thus they cannot be handed over and there is no way of appealing on this decision.

The countries which oppose this policy say that confidentiality can be guaranteed without such extreme measures. Finland also questions the legality of the Coreper decision. In the Finnish view decisions to make documents secret should be made on the merit of individual cases. There is no reason to automatically make a category of documents secret without analysing the content.

Sweden's decision to support Holland's complaint is seen as significant because the country takes over the EU Presidency for six months in January 2001. According to the Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet (7 November 2000), there had been speculation that because of its approaching Presidency, Sweden might have stayed away from controversial issues. In its editorial, Hufvudstadsbladet writes that Sweden decided that a principle is more important than "diplomacy's unwritten rules". Sweden has in the past been an active defender of openness in the EU.

See also:

New secrecy laws slipped in

4 September 2000

Solana dismisses criticism of EU secrecy

15 August 2000

Solana "wrong choice for EU"

14 August 2000

EU openness aided by public dispute

5 May 2000


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