Monday

11th Dec 2017

Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks

  • The ombudsman has called on EU institutions to be proactively transparent during Brexit talks (Photo: European Parliament)

For once it seems the interests of transparency advocates and the EU will coincide.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said last week in a speech that the Brexit talks will not take place in secret, and that the EU commission will negotiate in a "transparent and open manner".

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

With a nod to the Brits, and anyone toying with the idea of leaving the EU, Barnier said: "We need to tell the truth – and we will tell the truth – to our citizens about what Brexit means."

During sensitive political negotiations, secrecy usually helps to provide room for manoeuvre for all sides.

In EU negotiations, the general rule is that "nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed", which makes it difficult to keep talks transparent, as positions might shift.

Certain compromises could be interpreted in home countries as political defeat, making the sides less interested in revealing the nitty-gritty of the talks.

That fear of not being able to control the internal political agenda was reflected in UK prime minister Theresa May's comments last year, when she said she would not provide a "running commentary" on negotiations.

Brexit is different

Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman overseeing EU institutions and agencies, told EUobserver that Brexit negotiations are different.

"So many people will be affected in the UK, in the EU and outside the EU, nobody wants to be surprised at the end of the two-year negotiations. Citizens, families, and businesses want to make contingency plans, they have to be informed to the fullest extent possible," she said.

O'Reilly has already sent letters to the EU commission and the EU council, asking the institutions to "adopt a proactive approach from the outset and give citizens access to relevant information and documents at the appropriate time and without the need to ask for them."

O'Reilly, whose office has a group dealing with Brexit, argued in her meetings with the EU commission and council officials that it is in their interest to be proactive in transparency as much as possible if they want to control the narrative of the negotiations.

She has advocated for the EU-27's negotiating guidelines to be adopted by leaders on 29 April, and for the EU commission's negotiating directive to be made public.

Transparency regime

The guidelines will be made public, as any other conclusions of a regular EU summit would be, but the general "transparency regime" for the negotiations still needs to be decided, a source revealed.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, told EUobserver in Malta on Thursday (30 March) that his negotiating mandate will be made public too, but he would not comment on the wider document of negotiating directives, which outlines the detailed position of the EU.

Barnier pledged to be as transparent as possible, saying that working documents will be accessible on a dedicated page of the commission's website. That could include the legal texts on which Brexit talks will be based, as well as the EU's positions on various issues.

Documents could be online when negotiations start in May.

O'Reilly acknowledged that, during the Brexit talks, transparency could be a negotiating tactic for the EU.

"It is in the EU's interest to be as transparent as possible, and it is not in the UK's," she said, adding that the pro-Brexit British media adds to the pressure on the government in London.

O'Reilly commended the commission on transforming its transparency policy in trade talks with Canada and the US.

Culture shift

"There has been a culture-shift, facing up to the fact that 21st century communication's ability to leak is greater than ever before," she said, adding that civil society activism is also forcing the EU executive to rethink its approach.

The EU ombudsman argues that beside the two basic documents - the guidelines and the directives - the EU should make decisions public as soon as clarity emerges on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa. This would also extend to external inputs and documents that are being lobbied by stakeholders.

She recalls that the transparency regime is not there "to do harm" to the EU's interests, and in particular cases, withholding documents could be justified.

Transparency International EU (TI) also said in a statement to EUobserver that it is "absolutely paramount that the Brexit negotiations are as open and as transparent as possible", as they influence the future of the EU itself.

"If they want the negotiations to go well, they need to ensure full transparency," the advocacy group said.

"In order to ensure market stability, actors need to be able to follow the state of the negotiations. Otherwise this might have damaging effects on both sides of the channel," TI added, while welcoming the intention of the EU Commission to publish the negotiating mandate for Barnier.

MEPs draw 'red lines' on Brexit deal

MEPs will stress that the UK and EU members have no right to conclude separate deals during Brexit talks, according to a draft resolution seen by EUobserver.

'Unhappy' day as UK delivers Brexit letter

European Council chief Donald Tusk said that "damage control" starts for the EU, as British PM Theresa May has invoked Article 50 nine months after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

Barnier unveils EU's Brexit goals

Barnier to set out EU negotiating positions on citizens' rights, divorce costs, and Ireland in Brexit talks, amid a prickly atmosphere between London and Brussels.

May surprises EU with snap election

The UK prime minister has blamed the parliament for divisions in the country and called for a vote on 8 June, which she hopes will result in a pro-Brexit majority. The EU says the vote will not change its plans.

Analysis

What are the key points of the Brexit deal?

Here is a brief summary of the main points of the 'joint report', the outline of the Brexit divorce deal reached on Friday morning - and what still lies ahead.

EU leaders welcome Brexit divorce deal

British prime minister May's fellow leaders in Europe welcomed Friday's hard-won Brexit agreement on divorce, but Berlin in particular warned that the more 'highly complex' part of negotiations is to come.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level