Workshop on researching EU transparency in Helsinki

March 20th, 2018

On 22-23 March, the TrUE project (short for “Transparency in the EU – From Reaction to Manifesto?”), funded by the Academy of Finland, will host a methodology workshop around the subject of “how to research EU transparency”.

The TrUE project’s research team.

The workshop concentrates on the methodological aspects of the TrUE project. It brings together some of the central researchers active in the field of EU transparency (e.g. prof. dr. Deirdre Curtin, prof. dr. Daniel Naurin, and dr. Maarten Hillebrandt) and the TrUE team (headed by prof. dr. Päivi Leino) to discuss their methodological choices. The workshop is organised in collaboration with the UEF Law School, the European University Institute and the Helsinki Socio-Legal Initiative (HSLI).

The event is open to all. More information about the workshop, and a registration portal, are available through this web page. Further information about the TrUE project can be found here.

European Ombudsman inquiry criticises Council’s legislative opacity

February 13th, 2018

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly
Photo: European Parliament (via

Today European Ombudsman O’Reilly presented the outcomes of her own-initiative inquiry of the transparency of Council preparatory bodies in the negotiation of EU legislative acts. Significantly, the Ombudsman found instances of maladministration, which signifies the strongest sanction her office can provide.

The European Ombudsman’s concludes her inquiry with the observation that the current way in which the legislative procedure in the Council is set out, it is impossible for citizens to have timely access to sufficient information on the general development of legislative dossiers and specific inputs offered by the different member states. The Ombudsman concludes that:

“[T]he Council of the EU – through practices that inhibit the scrutiny of draft EU legislation – undermines citizens’ right to hold their elected representatives to account. This constitutes maladministration.”

The Ombudsman’s team conducted a detailed inspection and analysis of a number of individual legislative procedures. Among the most important findings deriving from this inquiry are the observations that the Council Secretariat may not proactively disclose documents containing member state positions while legislative decision making is ongoing, that there were inconsistencies in the different working parties’ working methods with regard to documentation, that the Council’s public register is incomplete and “not very user-friendly”, and that the Council wrongly applies a certain automatism in labelling documents ingoing procedures “LIMITE”, which means that they cannot be made directly available to the public.

In response to these shortcomings, the inquiry report offers various recommendations. Most important among these are that the Council update its rules of procedure to reflect standards of good administration, draw up guidelines containing minimum standards for a document trail pertaining to legislative procedures, take steps to reduce the reliance on LIMITE documents to an absolute minimum, and more generally, provide more generous and earlier access to legislative documents.

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Transparency news reports in 2017

January 16th, 2018

Since September 2014, the Open Government in the EU blog scans English-language online news outlets for news on EU transparency. Please find below the news digest for 2017. Digests of other time periods are searchable via the category “news reports” at the bottom of this post.

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Transparency news reports in 2016

January 16th, 2018

Since September 2014, the Open Government in the EU blog scans English-language online news outlets for news on EU transparency. Please find below the news digest for 2016. Digests of other time periods are searchable via the category “news reports” at the bottom of this post.

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New case note on access to documents case related to the EU’s emissions trade scheme

December 8th, 2017

“On the Administration of Pollution: How Much “Space to Think” May the EU Claim?”

When can an institution plausibly argue that something is decision-making, and not “mere” administration? And more importantly, how does this influence EU bodies’ legitimate claim to a “space to think” that shields them from transparency? In this newly published case note, Maarten Hillebrandt and Liisa Leppävirta argue that the EU courts still have a long way to go to clarify these questions.

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New Article on EU Transparency Policy and Interinstitutional Politics

September 25th, 2017

A new article in the latest issue of Governance & Politics deals with the role of transparency in interinstitutional politics. The question of transparency is widely regarded as a thermometer of the relation between the Council of the EU and the public at large. Relatively little attention however has been devoted to the implications of transparency (i.e., access for the general public) for inter-institutional information politics, even when the limited evidence suggests that the connection is considerable. The current publication asks how EU actors use Council transparency as a platform and for what reason. It approaches transparency as a policy that is developed in three arenas: the internal, the external political, and the external judicial arena. The article finds strong evidence in support of the view that the Council’s transparency policy played a central role in EU institutions’ attempt to advance their information ambitions. By strongly engaging with the issue of transparency particularly the European Parliament and its members succeeded at expanding their institutional information basis in an area where their political grip was traditionally at its weakest: the Foreign Affairs Council. Acting in turn as a bargaining chip, a political lever, or an alternative to institutional information, the Foreign Affairs Council’s transparency policy was thus clearly used to advance information agendas of oversight and legislative prerogatives.

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Well into the third act: The way forward on public access to EU documents

September 19th, 2017

Public Access to Documents in the EU, by Leonor Rossi and Patricia Vinagre e Silva, (Oxford/Portland, Hart Publishing, 2017, ISBN 9781509905331); xxxviii + 340pp.; £49.00 hb.


Access to EU Documents: A Policy in Three Acts

On 7 February, the EU celebrated a remarkable anniversary. Exactly twenty-five years ago on that day, the Heads of State and Government (HSG) of the European Community’s then twelve Member States took the bold leap forward by signing the Maastricht Treaty. Another leap forward lay tucked away in one of the Treaty’s accompanying texts, even when the Member States’ representatives did not realise it at the time of signing. Declaration 17, attached to the Maastricht Treaty, recognised the positive relation between transparency and democracy, and professed an intention to take steps to advance such transparency. Thus began the First Act of a transformative development called Access to Documents.

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EU Commission announces new transparency measures in response to calls from NGO community

September 15th, 2017

Last Monday, 13 September 2017, EU Commission President Juncker held his annual state of the Union speech in which he laid out his vision and priorities for the EU in the coming period. Calls for and responses to greater transparency are a recurrent theme in discussions on how to improve the EU.

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Court further strengthens EU institutions’ prerogative in determining access to member state-submitted documents

May 3rd, 2017

A new court case further strengthen’s the EU institutions’ hands in granting access to a member state’s documents against its will.

In a case against the Commission, initiated by France, the General Court confirmed that the Commission acted lawfully by granting public access to a series of documents submitted to it by the member state. Although France had justified its request for non-disclosure with the invocation of an exception contained in the EU access to documents law, the Commission judged this exception prima facie not to apply to said documents. France brought a judicial protest against this action, which led to the court’s judgment of April, which goes along with the Commission’s decision to disclose the documents against France’s will.

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Members of Dutch parliament present draft European Information Law

April 21st, 2017

On 17 March, two members of the Dutch parliament presented a draft European Information Law.

The draft law, drawn up by members Marit Maij and Anne Mulder, respective members of the then-ruling coalition parties the Social Democrats and the Liberals, intends to regulate the government’s information duties towards the Dutch parliament where it concerns European Union decision making. Whereas the parliament’s right to be informed already existed under Article 68 of the Dutch constitution, it is up until now dispersed in various pieces of parliamentary proceedings agreed at various points in time. The current draft law for the first time sets out to formalise the government’s information duties, codifying existing agreements and adding new ones. As the explanatory memorandum clarifies, information provided to the parliament should in principle be available to the public and open for public parliamentary debate.

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