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European court refuses access to MEPs’ expenses

The European Court of Justice confirmed a decision refusing access to travel expenses, parliamentary assistance and subsistence allowances of MEPs.

The court said the applicants failed to show how the transfer of personal data “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”.

The decision was criticised by Transparency International, which described it as “hugely disappointing”.

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The case dates back to 2015 when journalists and journalism associations requested access to the documents from the European Parliament, which was refused. A number of applications were filed after but these were also refused.

In its judgment, the court said that institutions must refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of privacy and the individual’s integrity.

All the documents requested had information about the MEPs, who were identifiable persons.

Under data protection law, personal data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person and all the requested documents had information about the MEP. The mere fact that the personal data is closely linked to public data on those persons does not mean that “the data cannot be characterised as personal data,” the court said.

Also access to documents containing personal data could be granted if the person making the request showed that the transfer was necessary and if there was no reason to believe it could prejudice the legitimate interests of the person concerned.

The court said the criteria for the first of those two cumulative conditions – the need for the data to be transferred – was not met in the present case.

The wish to institute public debate was not enough for the information to be given, the court said, adding there was a failure to demonstrate that transfer was appropriate and proportionate to the objective behind the request.

“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,” according to the judgment.

Redacting the data would have created an excessive administrative burden with regards to the  amount of documents and made it impossible to link these to the MEPs concerned.

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