Tuesday

23rd Apr 2019

Brexit transparency is 'political play', says EU watchdog

  • The letter formally starting the Brexit process was made public immediately, but the remaining EU-27 want other documents to be released, too. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The promise by the EU to be as transparent as possible in the negotiations with the UK over its exit from the bloc is “political play”, said the European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, at a press conference on Wednesday (24 May).

She spoke two days after the Council of the European Union, where national governments meet, had published a document that laid out rules on when to publish documents relating to the Brexit negotiations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • O'Reilly: 'I'm not naive enough to think that this is because the Council and the Commission have fallen in love with transparency all of a sudden.' (Photo: European Ombudsman)

“Ensuring that the negotiations are conducted in a transparent manner will be one of the keys of their success,” the document said.

In a letter to the ombudsman, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had promised in April that the EU's transparency policy on the Brexit talks would be "unique and unprecedented".

The document adopted in Monday puts a “strong emphasis on everything being shared,” O'Reilly's noted.

But she said that this push for transparency has more to do with the fact that UK prime minister Theresa May “has urged quite the opposite: secrecy, warning against leaks, threatening sanctions against people who leak”.

“I'm not naive enough to think that this is because the EU council and the commission have fallen in love with transparency all of a sudden. I see this as political play,” said O'Reilly.

The Ombudsman annual report, published on Tuesday, noted that transparency issues, like access to documents requests, were the office's most prevalent issue over the past two years.

“It's been our experience that [the] council has been the least transparent of the big institutions,” O'Reilly said.

However, she said that some improvements were visible, even if it is more of an evolution than a revolution.

O'Reilly noted that the EU commission under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who took office in November 2014, has made transparency “one of the hallmarks”.

She noted that, in particular, the experience with talks for the EU-US trade agreement, TTIP, was important.

“There was a complete change of heart within the commission when they saw the engagement of civil society, when they saw the impact of social media,” said O'Reilly, noting that the commission became much more transparent about the talks after public protests.

Somewhat related to that, the European Ombudsman also said that Brexit will have a “positive impact” on the engagement of citizens with politics happening at EU level.

“People are more curious about it, a lot more people are engaged. That adds to the pressure perhaps particularly at council level for greater transparency,” she said.

More transparency from the council is also key to reducing euroscepticism, she said.

“Typically people say, when they don't like a certain policy, 'it's Brussels', and they imagine it's the commission and it's the commissioners, and it's a very narrow group of 'faceless bureaucrats', unelected, making unaccountable decisions and so on,” said O'Reilly.

“What I've been trying to say to the council, and to EU institution leaders as well: If you want to break through the myths, if you want to break through the caricature, then you have to allow people to see how laws are actually made, and how power is actually distributed as between the EU institutions and the member states.”

EU gives mandate for Barnier to take on Brexit

In its final preparatory act before Brexit talks begin, the EU has officially given the negotiating mandate to Michel Barnier. The French politician said he would like to start negotiations on the week of 19 June.

Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said his mandate and all EU commission working documents will be made public during the negotiations. Tactic or policy shift? This time, the EU is interested in transparency.

Lobby register transparency talks collapse

Efforts to set up a better transparency register for lobbyists have collapsed after two years of talks. The impasse revolves around the European Commission's insistence that the register also become mandatory for the European Parliament and Council.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us