Abstract: In this thematic issue, the question whether EU decision making might be characterised by an excess of transparency stands central. This contribution addresses an issue that precedes such questions of quantity: that of transparency’s qualities, i.e., its specific shape. From an early point in time, transparency in the EU has been equated with the narrow and legalistic notion of ‘access to documents.’ Although since then, transparency has become associated with a wider range of practices, the Union has not managed to shake off the concept’s association with bureaucracy, opacity, and complexity. This remains the case, in spite of the fact that administrations and decision-makers across the world increasingly utilise the possibilities of technological innovation to communicate more directly with their electorates. In this changing communicative context, this commentary considers whether EU transparency as access to documents is still fit for purpose. It does so by exploring access policy from the vantage point of legal developments, administrative practices, political dynamics, and technological innovations. The commentary concludes that while improvements are needed, the access to documents concept endures. However, access to documents needs to be complemented by constructive (rather than predatory) public justification and contestation, to remain viable.
Keywords: access to documents; administrative circumvention; document base; European Union; record keeping; transparency