31st Mar 2023

EU ministers to open their meetings to public

The EU Council, the member states' decision-making body, has decided to open its doors to parts of its meetings, in a move that has been termed by the European Commission as crucial in regaining the trust of Europe's citizens.

EU member states agreed on Wednesday (21 December) to hold discussions and votes on EU legislation, under the so-called co-decision procedure, in public with immediate effect.

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The co-decision procedure refers to legislative areas where EU member states decide over a law proposal by the European Commission, and where the European Parliament also has a full say, including economic, social and environmental legislation.

The move means that citizens and journalists will be able to follow the positions taken by ministers in meetings of the EU council, member states' decision-making body which is seen as a bulwark of EU opaqueness.

Under the new scheme, the highly controversial services directive may be one of the laws to be discussed in public next year, while currently, only a very limited number of deliberations can be followed by the public.

Wednesday's decision does not cover policy areas which fall outside the co-decision procedure, such as most justice and home affairs legislation, nor does it cover non-legislative acts such as decisions on foreign policy.

The move is also restricted to the council’s first deliberations after the European Commission has presented its proposal, as well as its "final" deliberations that take place once the European Parliament has submitted its opinion.

The discussions in between, where compromises are generally hammered out, will remain behind closed doors, but EU ambassadors may still decide, before a ministers meeting, to make these discussions public as well.

The country holding the EU presidency will also be able to propose that the council opens up deliberations on non-legislative issues - covering decisions on how to react to a current event, like bird flue for example - if they involve "important issues affecting the interests of the Union and its citizens".


Member states indicated in a statement that they intend to take their transparency initiative forward, stating that "The Council will in the future hold more debates in public on important new legislative proposals on items other than those covered by the co-decision procedure".

All public debates and deliberations, as well as public votes, will be broadcast in all languages through video-streaming on the council's internet web site from the summer of 2006, the statement said.

The European Commission welcomed the decision, with one commission official saying "This is a big step towards a European Union which is more transparent and understandable to citizens."

"It is crucial for regaining the trust of citizens in the European Union", the official added, highlighting that council transparency was one of the priorities that the Commission had put forward in its Plan D for democracy, dialogue and debate that Brussels tabled this year.

Open discussions in the EU council have also been championed by the outgoing UK presidency of the EU, which scored a success in the matter just before Austria takes over the helm of the bloc in January.

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