Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents

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Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Institutional affairs > The decision-making process and the work of the institutions

Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents

Document or Iniciative

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.


The purpose of this Regulation is to facilitate access to the documents * of the European institutions. It provides that citizens may access any type of documents, subject to the conditions defined in the Regulation and the exceptions laid out therein. It applies to all documents held by an institution, that is to say, documents drawn up or received by it and in its possession, in all areas of activity of the European Union (EU).

Beneficiaries are any EU citizens and any natural or legal persons residing or having their headquarters in a Member State.

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 Community or a Member State;
  • privacy and the integrity of an individual, in particular in accordance with Community legislation regarding the protection of personal data;
  • a person’s commercial interests;
  • court proceedings and legal advice;
  • the purpose of inspections, investigations and audits.

The European institutions may refuse to disclose a particular document if this is justified by an overriding public interest.

Access to a document drawn up by an institution for internal use may be refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.

As regards third-party documents *, the institution must consult the third party with a view to assessing whether an exception is applicable.

Documents in the Member States

Where a Member State receives a request for a document in its possession, originating from an institution, the Member State consults with the institution concerned, in order to take a decision that does not jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Regulation. The Member State may instead refer the request to the institution.

Applications, processing of applications and access to documents

Applications for access to a document must be made in written form, including electronic form, in one of the languages of the EU. The applicant is not obliged to state reasons for the application.

An application for access to a document must be handled promptly. An acknowledgement of receipt must be sent to the applicant. Within 15 working days from the registration of the application, the institution must either grant access to the document requested, or refuse access.

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 has access to documents either by consulting them on the spot or by receiving a copy.

Treatment of sensitive documents

Sensitive documents are documents originating from the institutions or the agencies established by them, from Member States, third countries or international organisations, classified as “TRÈS SECRET/TOP SECRET”, “SECRET” or “CONFIDENTIAL”. Applications for access to sensitive documents must be handled only by those persons who have a right to acquaint themselves with those documents. Sensitive documents are recorded in the register or released only with the consent of the originator.

Registers and administrative practice

To facilitate access to documents, each institution must provide access to a register of documents. Access to the register should be provided in electronic form.

The Member States must cooperate with the institutions in providing information to the citizens. The institutions must develop good administrative practices, in order to facilitate the exercise of the right of access guaranteed by this Regulation. They must establish an inter-institutional committee to examine best practice, address possible conflicts and discuss future developments on public access to documents.

Publication in the Official Journal

The following documents are published in the Official Journal:

  • Commission proposals;
  • common positions adopted pursuant to Articles 251 and 252 of the EC Treaty;
  • framework decisions, decisions and conventions referred to in Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union (EU Treaty);
  • conventions signed between Member States on the basis of Article 293 of the EC Treaty;
  • international agreements concluded by the Community or in accordance with Article 24 of the EU Treaty.

Reports and application measures

Every year, each institution publishes a report for the preceding year, indicating the number of cases in which the institution refused to grant access to documents, the reasons for such refusals and the number of sensitive documents not recorded in the register.

Key terms used in the act
  • Document: any content whatever its medium (written on paper or stored in electronic form or as a sound, visual or audiovisual recording) concerning a matter relating to the policies, activities and decisions falling within the institution’s sphere of responsibility.
  • Third party: any natural or legal person, or any entity outside the institution concerned, including the Member States, other Community or non-Community institutions and bodies, and third countries.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Regulation No 1049/2001


OJ L 145 of 31.5.2001

Related Acts

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 April 2008 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents [COM(2008) 229 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

This proposal seeks to amend Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 in light of the European Parliament’s motion for a resolution of 4 April 2006 on access to the institutions’ texts (A6-0052/2006), the Regulation (EC) No 1367/2006 of 6 September 2006 on the Aarhus Convention, and the public consultation on the review of the Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 (SEC(2008) 29/2).
The proposal underpins amendments with regard to the following Articles:

  • the purpose of the Regulation, which is to grant public access to the institutions’ documents;
  • the beneficiaries of the Regulation, who may be any natural or legal persons, regardless of their nationality or State of residence;
  • the scope of the Regulation, which excludes documents submitted to Courts by third parties. The scope also excludes documents related to an investigation as long as the investigation has not been closed or the relevant decision has not become definitive;
  • the definition of “document”, which indicates that the document has been formally transmitted to its recipient(s), circulated within the institutions or otherwise registered. The definition of “document” also applies to data contained in electronic systems, if they can be extracted in a readable form;
  • the exceptions to the Regulation, which include documents that concern environmental protection, relate to court, arbitration and dispute settlement proceedings, and aim at protecting selection procedures for staff and contracting parties. The disclosure of non-professional related personal data of civil servants and interest representatives is regulated by EC legislation on processing of personal data (Regulation (EC) No 45/2001);
  • the consultations with third parties, which provide for the obligation to consult the authorities of the Member State from where the document originates, unless the document is part of a procedure leading to a legislative or non-legislative act of general application;
  • the applications for documents, which take into account the clarity with which the document is requested and thus identified. With regard to confirmatory applications, the time limit for handling these is extended from 15 to 30 working days. In case of even partial refusal, the applicant can bring proceedings against the institution before the Court of First Instance and/or complain to the European Ombudsman;
  • access to the document following the application, which cannot derogate from specific modalities laid down in EU or national law, in particular when access is subject to a payment fee;
  • the active dissemination of documents, which provides for direct access to documents that are part of a procedure leading to a legislative or non-legislative act of general application. Each institution is to define the other categories that are to be made directly accessible to the public.

Co-decision procedure (2008/0090/COD)

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