I bet you all thought the EU was a law abiding body, open and transparent, no secrets kept from its citizens? Well think again, as the EU General Court confirms the Parliament’s refusal to grant access to documents relating to MEPs’ subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances.
In 2015, a number of journalists and journalism associations requested access from the Parliament to documents relating to the subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances of Members of the European Parliament (‘MEPs’). Those requests were all refused by the Parliament, as were the confirmatory applications which followed them.
The persons concerned brought an action before the General Court seeking the annulment of the Parliament’s decisions. By today’s judgment, the General Court dismisses the actions and confirms the Parliaments’ decisions refusing access to the documents requested.
The Court recalls first of all that the institutions must refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of privacy and the integrity of the individual, which provision must be implemented in accordance with EU law on the protection of personal data. 1 Under that legislation, ‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. Indeed, since all the documents requested contain information concerning identified natural persons (namely MEPs), the mere fact that those personal data are closely linked to public data on those persons does not mean that those data cannot be characterised as personal data.
Next, the Court recalls that access to documents containing personal data may nonetheless be granted if the applicant shows that the transfer is necessary and if there is no reason to believe that that transfer could prejudice the legitimate interests of the person concerned. The General Court considers that the first of those two cumulative conditions (the need for the data to be transferred) is not met in the present case. The applicants have failed to show how the transfer of personal data at issue is necessary to ensure an adequate review of the expenditure incurred by MEPs to fulfil their mandate, in particular to remedy the alleged inadequacies of existing mechanisms for the review of that expenditure .
Similarly, the wish to institute public debate cannot suffice to show the need for the transfer of personal data, since such an argument is connected solely with the purpose of the request for access to the documents. Finally, the applicants have failed to demonstrate that that transfer is appropriate and proportionate to the objective pursued.
The Court points out that, in any event, by their arguments, the applicants are not so much seeking again to challenge the legality of the contested decisions but are, in essence, denouncing shortcomings in and the ineffectiveness of existing review mechanisms. It is not for the Court to assess that point in the context of proceedings brought before it.