Sunday

19th Jan 2020

EU Council is 'black hole' in public trust

  • The Council, where member states hide behind common positions, is becoming more powerful (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU Council, its most powerful institution, is a “black hole” unto the general public, hampering efforts to regain trust, a leading NGO has said.

“The Council remains a big black hole in the EU decision-making process,” Carl Dolan, head of Transparency International’s (TI) EU office, said in Brussels on Wednesday (28 September).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

“It’s mystifying as an institution ... By definition, there is nothing like it at the national level, and it stands apart from its peer institutions here in Brussels,” he said.

He said people could watch European Parliament debates or take part in public consultations on European Commission proposals, but he said “there’s nothing like that at Council level”.

He added that Council opacity is a pressing issue because power over EU policy has tilted from the Commission back to member states, making the Council, where thy meet, into an “agenda-setter”.

Dolan spoke on the occasion of a new TI study that showed how EU secrecy can harm the outside world.

Taking EU fishing quotas as an example, the study noted that “many fishing limits set annually by EU fisheries’ ministers regularly exceed scientifically advised levels”.

The study said this happened because when EU ministers negotiated behind closed doors their main concern was to go home with a good deal for their national fishing fleets.

That lack of accountability has led to overfishing of European stocks by 20 percent per year for the past 15 years, TI said.

Meanwhile, the Commission unveiled plans earlier this week for a mandatory lobbyist register to cover all the big EU institutions, including some Council diplomats.

The project comes amid broader efforts to regain public trust in the wake of Brexit and the migration crisis, but also amid lobbying controversies by top EU officials.

As things stand, the Council is the only EU body without any lobbyist register, but Dolan said it was “being dragged kicking and screaming into the light in terms of new social norms on transparency”.

Kicking and screaming

TI recalled on Thursday that a 2013 decision by the EU Court of Justice said the Council should publish details of each member state’s position on any given EU decision.

The EU’s ombudsman in July also published recommendations on making trilogues - informal negotiations between the Commission, the Council, and MEPs - more open to scrutiny.

Dolan told EUobserver there are signs that Council chief Donald Tusk is becoming aware of the problem.

"Everybody realises now the future is in their [member states’] hands, and it is not sufficient to blame the Commission or the Parliament, and I think this is becoming increasingly clear to the European public," he said

Alex Brenninkmeijer, a former Dutch ombudsman and a member of the European Court of Auditors, said on Thursday: “Transparency ... is part of taking people seriously in society”.

“It's the basis for trust in society,” he said.

Ombudsman probes secret Council lawmaking

Emily O'Reilly has launched an inquiry into whether the EU Council, where member states are represented, allows sufficient public scrutiny of the drafting of laws.

Catalan MEPs Puigdemont and Comin look for a party

The former head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, and one member of his government, Toni Comín, have requested to join the Greens/EFA group - but they do not close the door to other political groups.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us