HEC Paris students turn the heat up on EU transparency

19 February 2016

The EU Public Interest Clinic – directed by Professor Alberto Alemanno and made up of students from HEC Paris and NYU Law School – filed a formal complaint with the Madrid-based NGO AccessInfo Europe to the European Ombudsman lamenting the lack of transparency in the selection of justices to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The complaint resulted in the opening of an intense debate within EU institutions, and constitutes the first great achievement for the HEC Paris-NYU Law Clinic.

HEC Paris - NYU Law EU Public interest Clinic - 2016

In the context of an increasingly powerful and increasingly important supranational European Union, the EU Public Interest Clinic, launched in 2014 by Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monet Law Professor at HEC Paris, aims to thrust the students into the heart of the EU decision-making process, and to demonstrate the fundamental importance of citizen participation in order to defend European public interest.

The students therefore wrestled with the question of transparency, a key principal of the functioning of European institutions, and more precisely of the rights of citizens to have access to documents. The complaint concerned the refusal of the EU Council to grant access to the opinions of the "comité 225", which has been giving opinions on candidates applying to be judges on the CJEU and their aptitude for the role since 2010. Given the impact of the decisions taken by these judges on the everyday life of European citizens, the students of the Clinic sought to defend the right of citizens to know why they had been selected.

Following an inquiry into the issue, the European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, told EU Parliament in a statement on January 28th that transparency requires the EU administration to "be accountable to the citizens that it serves". "Access to information about how the EU and its institutions work is vital for the citizens to trust the EU, and the EU needs the trust of its citizens especially at times when it faces both internal and external challenges", she stated in Brussels.

Despite O’Reilly admitting that the situation was "problematic", the Council have underlined that for the time being the information in question will remain out of the public eye for data protection reasons. Nevertheless, the project constitutes a great triumph for the students who have succeeded in publicly scrutinizing a rather obscure piece of European decision-making, and have paved the way for further lines of inquiry into the matter. Indeed, O’Reilly confirmed that should public access not be granted following a new request, she will be in a position to "scrutinize the detailed reasoning of the Council".

Alberto Alemanno, Professor of European Union Law at HEC Paris and director of the EU Clinic, commented that: "The Access Info project has been one of the most exciting for our students in our first three years of existence. Our complaint has been pivotal in leading the 28 governments gathering in the Council of the EU to change their overall policy of disclosure of public documents.  This change affects a significantly broader category of documents than those we initially requested".

Lamin Khadar, Executive Director of the EU Clinic further commented that: "Our students, from HEC and NYU, are incredibly high-caliber and make it possible for us to do cutting-edge EU public interest law work. The Clinic is growing and becoming more sophisticated each year. This first big win will likely be the first of many to come as the Clinic learns from experience."

About the EU Public Interest Clinic

Launched in 2014, The EU Public Interest Clinic is a partnership between New York University School of Law and HEC Paris. It is the first clinic devoted to experimenting with the various channels of participatory democracy existing within the EU.

Through lobbying, advocacy, and legal research, the EU Clinic promotes democratic, transparent and accountable EU institutions, and sees the students working directly for NGOs operating in the EU policy field. They are supported by a range of experienced and highly respected academics and practitioners who work with the Clinic on a pro bono basis to advance the goals of the client NGOs.

Students are playing an active and important role in ongoing policy processes and advocacy campaigns concerning the most pressing issues facing the EU, its 28 Member States and its 500 million inhabitants. As such, students help NGOs give a much needed voice to the public in the complex supra-national EU policy process.

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