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6th Mar 2021

Ombudsman to probe EU's secret law-making

  • Secret EU lawmaking could be put in the spotlight by the ombudsman (Photo: European Union)

The EU’s transparency watchdog is poised to launch a new wave of investigations into secret EU lawmaking in May.

Gundi Gadesman, the spokesperson for European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, told this website that further ’systemic investigations’ would be launched at the end of May after O’Reilly announces her office’s annual report.

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Since taking the job as Ombudsman in 2013, O’Reilly has launched a series of investigations in a bid to improve the transparency of the EU institutions including the work of EU Commission expert groups and the so-called ‘revolving doors’ issue of public officials moving into the private sector.

The new investigations would look at “key systemic problems about transparency in the EU,” Gadesman said.

A probe into the trialogue process “might be one of them but we are not at that stage yet,” she said, adding that “there are clear concerns about the opacity of the trialogue process,”

The 'own-initiative' investigations would not be legally binding on the institutions but could shine a light on the murkier side of EU lawmaking.

"Ms O'Reilly is fully right to take up this point,” Dutch leftist MEP Dennis de Jong, who chairs the Parliament’s cross-party group on transparency, told EUobserver. “When making laws at national level, negotiations between parliament and ministers are open and transparent. It is ridiculous that when it comes to EU legislation, trialogue meetings take place behind closed doors”.

On average, around 100 EU laws are agreed each year, of which 80 percent are now agreed at first reading, with research by the European Parliament estimating that the average law agreed at first reading takes 14.4 months to complete from start to finish.

Set up to broker compromise agreements between MEPs and ministers, the trialogue process, which starts as soon as the institutions agree their initial positions on a law, is designed to speed the process up .

On average, around 25 separate trialogue meetings take place each week that the parliament is sitting.

But critics complain that the work of trialogues is too secretive, and that the bills which emerge at the end of the process bear little resemblance to the versions initially agreed by ministers and parliamentary committees.

As a rule the rapporteur, shadow rapporteurs from other political groups and committee chair, comprise the Parliament's negotiating team on a law, while, at other seats round the table are officials from the European Commission and either the minister or senior civil servants from the country holding the EU Council presidency.

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