24th Sep 2023

MEPs renew call for greater EU transparency

The European Parliament has called on the council of ministers, the union's main law-making body, to open its doors to the public and show how national governments negotiate at the European level.

"What is there to hide?" asked Spanish green MEP David Hammerstein Mintz during a parliament debate on Tuesday (4 April).

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  • MEPs want future council meetings to be held in the open (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"With European leaders bent on deliberating in private, it is no wonder citizens feel alienated from the EU," he added.

MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of two reports criticising the council for being too secretive and calling for more public access to EU documents.

"Citizens must be able to see what is being agreed in their names by national ministers of national governments so that they and opposition parties can hold them to account," said UK socialist MEP Michael Cashman.

EU leaders announced in December they would begin having more discussions on EU legislation in public, as well as being open about votes falling under the so-called co-decision procedure where the European Parliament has a say.

The council said it might broadcast its meetings online when gathering for legislative decisions.

But the European ombudsman, the EU citizens' watchdog against Brussels maladministration, said the council has "only partially" responded to his demand for full transparency on law-making work.

The parliament on Tuesday supported the ombudsman's stance when they endorsed Mr Hammerstein Mintz's report on transparency.

"The council cannot continue to ignore the recommendations by the European ombudsman that it open its doors to the public when meeting in legislative capacity. It reflects poorly on the democratic credentials of the EU," said Mr Hammerstein Mintz.

\"Not necessarily bad\"

Analyst Antonio Missiroli from the European Policy Centre in Brussels said EU leaders doing deals behind closed doors is "not necessarily bad" however.

"We all know it's part of politics that there are reserved discussions or so-called backdoor negotiation," Mr Missiroli said, suggesting that for the 25 member states to agree on a common European law they sometimes have to resort to wrangling behind closed doors.

It is unlikely the council would ever become 100 percent open he said.

The EU presidency could, for example, decide to shut down coverage of a council meeting if the topic became too sensitive to be made public, Mr Missiroli indicated.

The Finnish government, due to hold the rotating EU presidency from July this year, said in a statement that it would increase transparency by promoting discussion on the issue and by developing European regulation on public access to documents.

Access to documents

Mr Cashman's report on access to documents called on the European Commission to revise existing rules and to table new legislation by the end of 2006 on "the right to access" to European Parliament, council and commission documents.

EU legislation on public access to texts was adopted in 2001 after lengthy discussions between the council and the parliament.

But MEPs feel that the final text of the legislation was too vague.

"The commission is very engaged in the question of public access to documents and we have started an overview of the regulation," said communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom on Tuesday.

"Public access to documents is about full view, trust and ultimately about democracy," she added.

Mr Cashman indicated that action should be taken on 9 May, which is Europe day.

"Let us make Europe Day a positive day when we can announce how we will improve a citizen's right to know what is done in his or her name", he said.

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