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20th Jul 2019

EUobserved

Weber's 'black box' dilemma

  • Manfred Weber's EPP group forced through a secret ballot in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to derail transparency measures at the EU parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

On Wednesday (26 June), Manfred Weber argued that the EU is perceived as a "black box" that people have no control over.

"That's why my main goal is to bridge the gap between 'Brussels' and the citizens," said Weber, in a tweet.

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Yet four months ago, the European People's Party (EPP) group, the biggest in the parliament and under Weber's leadership, forced through a secret ballot on greater transparency at the European Parliament.

The group triggered a rarely-used parliamentary rule that allows MEPs to hide their individual votes from the public in a plenary vote.

The proposal in question was aimed at making it somewhat easier for the public to understand how EU law is shaped.

Although eventually, despite the outright opposition from Weber's EPP, the proposals passed anyway in early February.

Pressed to explain, his spokesperson told this website after the vote that Weber was against any system where only registered lobbyists have access to MEPs.

He instead said the system should be voluntary, which is diplomatic code for no system at all.

It is also unclear how forcing a rarely-used secret ballot, in order to curb transparency, helps Weber's stated goal of bridging Brussels with the people.

Trying to wipe clean any legislative paper-trail of meetings only appears to increase the perception that the EU is indeed a "black box".

True motives?

The whole suggests that Weber's true intention lays elsewhere as his bid to become the next European Commission president slips away.

Weber says he has the legitimate claim to the presidency post, because his EPP group again emerged as the strongest party from the EU elections, in a process known as the Spitzenkandidat.

But Weber issuing warnings in defence of the Spitzenkandidat system is somewhat odd given his own recent history.

In an op-ed, published in his native Die Welt on Wednesday, he writes people want to have a say and an influence on EU matters.

"They no longer accept things' being decided outside the public space and without their participation," he says.

At the same time, Weber and his party tried to deny the right of citizens to see how their elected MEPs voted on a transparency issue.

He had deliberately obscured the vote, making it impossible for the public to hold their own elected MEPs to account.

The point was driven home by Weber's colleague, German MEP Daniel Caspary.

He told this website in January that a secret ballot was necessary to avoid a backlash from the public.

"We clearly say that the big majority of our group is against those measures and we say this publicly, but we see the big pressure, and because [of that] therefore we can't [have an open ballot] to protect the other members," he said.

That protection from public scrutiny is an essential building block of Weber's black box dilemma. If anything, it only serves to weaken his commission presidency bid even further.

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