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Students help secure release of EU opt-out documents
Students at the University's Brussels School of International Studies have helped secure the release of European Commission documents that relate to the UK's possible opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The students worked with the EU Rights Clinic and the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) to obtain the documents that the two bodies hope will shed light on negotiations concerning the Charter of Fundamental Rights at the time of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007.
The EU Rights Clinic and ECAS and are now making the released documents available to the public as a way of enhancing citizens' awareness of their EU rights and further contributing to the European Year of Citizens which in 2013 is dedicated to the rights that affiliated with EU citizenship.
Students studying migration law at the University of Kent at Brussels help provide advice for EU citizens at the EU Rights Clinic, which was established in January 2013 in conjunction with ECAS. Working in partnership with qualified citizens advice rights lawyers, the Clinic helps to provide members of the public with free advice on European legislation and other legal issues.
Anthony Valcke, Legal Supervisor for the EU Rights Clinic, said: 'The EU Rights Clinic is delighted to have contributed to this important endeavour. Our students worked on drafting letters, reviewing the released documents and putting together the background note that explains the contents of these documents and highlights their importance.'
ECAS made an initial request for the documents relating to the UK's opt-out in October 2007, prior to the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. The request was made under EU Regulation 1049/2001 which allows the public to request the release of documents from the EU institutions. After an initial refusal from the European Commission, ECAS took the matter before the European Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman issued a final decision in December 2012 ruling that the Commission was guilty of 'a serious instance of maladministration' and that 'the Commission's position constitutes a substantive violation of the fundamental right of access to documents foreseen in Article 42 of the Charter'. Following a new request by ECAS made in December 2012, which covered not only the UK but also Poland and the Czech Republic, the Commission released the contested documents on 31 January 2013.
Tony Venables, Director ECAS, said: 'The documents reveal that the opt-out was the lesser of two evils. Serious proposals were made by the Council Presidency to remove the reference to Member States from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
'This suggests that governments cannot be trusted to negotiate on our fundamental rights on their own.'
These documents, as well as the background note offering an explanation of what is contained within them, are accessible on the EU Rights Clinic's blog (http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/eu-rights-clinic/) and the European Citizens House website (www.citizenshouse.eu).
Story published at 5:02pm 5 March 2013
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