27th Sep 2023

Pressure mounts for less secrecy in EU law-making

The European Ombudsman has come out in support of those calling for EU ministers to legislate in a more transparent manner.

In a statement on Tuesday (11 October) Nikiforos Diamandouros said the council has given "no valid reasons" for refusing to meet in public whenever it is acting in its legislative capacity.

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  • The EU is the only legislature in the world, other than North Korea, that still makes laws in secret (Photo: Council of the European Union)

He called on the institution to "review its refusal to decide to meet publicly" in a special report presented to MEPs in the petitions committee.

At the moment, member states take decisions on EU laws in secret. This allows ministers to indulge in the well-known practice of agreeing an unpopular law in Brussels and then blaming the EU in the face of political heat at home.

The council, which represents the member states, says it is its political decision alone to decide how open a meeting is.

In his report, however, Mr Diamandouros disagrees and concludes that the council only needs to amend its rules of procedure to make legislation-making more transparent.

"In the Ombudsman's view, the Council's failure to do so constitutes an instance of maladministration", his reports states.

Secret decisions that affect EU citizens

The issue came to the attention of the ombudsman when centre-right German MEP Elmar Brok lodged a complaint in 2003.

Mr Brok argued that council decisions directly affect citizens' lives and should be taken openly. He also pointed out that the EU constitution, which is currently in political limbo, contains an article making EU law-making transparent.

The German MEP is not the only politican to make this an issue. Last month a group of influential British MEPs also called on London, as the current EU presidency, to push for more openness.

They pointed out that the EU is the only legislature in the world, except North Korea, that still makes laws in secret.

Commission takes up the case

This issue also features in the European Commission's new communication policy, which is laid out in a paper set to be published on Thursday (13 October).

The paper argues that "the European citizen is entitled to expect efficient, open and service-minded public institutions".

It notes that the commitments by member states to open the council "have not yet been translated into practice".

The communication policy will be presented by Margot Wallstrom, the bloc's first communications commissioner.

Mrs Wallstrom has long argued that one of the ways to bring citizens closer to the EU is for national ministers to be held more accountable for the decisions they make in Brussels.

The EU has been going through a crisis of confidence in its relations with citizens ever since French and Dutch voters roundly rejected the EU constitution earlier this year.


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