With the launch of Europe’s freedom of information requests website this week, several questions arise both regarding how it works and what we can ask the European Union.
As Help Me Investigate informed you already, asktheEU.org is defined by some limitations, among which the public nature of the requests. Other potential traps are the EU’s Data Protection rules, which prevent you from accessing certain personal records (even your own), the fares they charge for the production and delivery of a hard-copy of the information, as well as the response time-frame, as it takes longer for a request to be processed over the public holidays.
But while these catches are fascinating (and before scrutinizing them further), let us address some potential enquires for the EU.
What are the main EU institutions and what are they responsible for?
- Known as the “first pillar” of the EU the Parliament’s structure incorporates “European Communities, customs union and single market, Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, Competition law, Economic and Monetary Union, EU citizenship, Education and Culture, consumer protection, health care, research (e.g. technology), Environmental Law, Social policy, Asylum policy, Schengen Agreement, Immigration policy” (Morrison, 2009: 289)
- Its powers expand over three main areas: legislative, budgetary and supervision, of the Commission and the Council (see Parliament’s powers and procedures for details )
- Why not ask for immigration figures between the 27 EU states? Or go through the Schengen Agreement? Ask about the implementation of drugs and the funding of the health care schemes? Or about the production of crops and their distribution across the union?
- Known as the “second pillar” of EU’s structure it oversees “Common Foreign and Security Policy, Human rights, Democracy, Foreign aid, European security and defence, Battle groups (small EU military units), Peacekeeping” (Morrison, 2009: 289)
- As EU’s executive body, the Commission is divided into several departments also known as Directorates-General, among which Taxation and Customs Union and Trade. A full list of these, with links to their respective websites can be found here.
- Given the variety of services it entails you can put requests in for anything from the Commission’s investments in its global development goals to the taxation of goods across the member states.
EU Council of Ministers
- The “third pillar” of the union’s structure, it deals (among other issues) with “Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters, Drug trafficking, Weapons smuggling, People trafficking, Terrorism, Organised Crime, Bribery and Fraud” (Morrison, 2009: 289)
- The Ministers gather in a Committee which “is the guardian of the Council’s fundamental values, and [which] monitors member states’ compliance with their undertakings” (details about the Minister’s duties and activities can be accessed here )
- In light of the EU officers’ strike and last year’s MPs’ expenses story why not try requesting information on the EU Ministers budgetary allowances and claims? Or given the nature of the Council’s dealings you can ask for crime and terrorism data that might lead to a global story.
EU Court of Justice
- EU’s “supreme legal institution,” (Morrison, 2009: 299) the Court of Justice, covers areas including “free trade and the free movement of goods and services in the EU single market; employment law and […] competition law (cartels, monopolies, mergers and acquisitions); public sector regulation” (Morrison, 2009: 300) and has responsibilities with regards to “the following policy areas: agriculture; state aid; competition; commercial policy; regional policy; social policy; institutional law; trade mark law; transport” (Morrison, 2009: 301)
- For more details on the types of cases heard by the court and for more information on the court’s proceedings route you can visit: http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice/index_en.htm
- This one is quite intriguing as it’s rather easier and trickier at the same time. You can obviously request information on any court case, but it is more likely for EU’s Data Protection rules to apply here, so manage with care. Still, it presents quite a variety of cases and thus of potential stories.
ECB (European Central Bank)
- The bank was founded with the implementation of the euro on 1 January 2002 in Frankfurt with its functions similar to those of any national bank. The catch here is that you can only put requests in for the administrative dealings of the bank, thus you can ask anything regarding the way it functions, but little else.
Finally, AsktheEU.org also has a list of all the public EU bodies you can put your request towards (most of which are part of the abovementioned institutions) and it is available here. Under each public body you find it gives you brief details of its responsibilities and in some cases it also provides links to the body’s respective webpage.
Morrison, J. (2009) Public Affairs for Journalists, Oxford University Press