Upcoming transparency research & policy events

September 2nd, 2019

18-19 September 2019: “Workshop: Inside the Black Box of Trilogues”, Utrecht University. Closed event.

24 September 2019: “Seminar: The future of EU transparency”, Finnish EU Presidency, Brussels. Closed event.

19-20 November 2019: “RECONNECT Conference: Transparency in the EU: mechanisms and practices”, Lille Catholic University (ESPOL). Abstract submission deadline: 20 September 2019. More information here.

Transparency reforms “better served” by withholding access, access applicant is told

June 7th, 2019

The Council’s ongoing transparency overhaul continues to attract public attention.

Last summer, the Council entered a reorientation process of its internal access to documents policy. The internal reforms, which are still ongoing, were sparked by a highly critical report published by the European Ombudsman, as well as a court judgment which found current access practices in informal trilogue negotiations on legislative dossiers between the Council and the European Parliament to contravene EU transparency law. A recent confirmatory application (appeal) decision highlights the public attention for these reform negotiations.

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MEPs publish open letter to upcoming Council Presidency concerning transparency

April 3rd, 2019

Today, 97 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) submitted a letter to Finnish government which will take up the rotating EU Council Presidency as of 1 July, urging it to make lobby transparency a central theme in its policy agenda.

The letter, written by prominent transparency proponents and MEPs charged with transparency policy questions (including Heidi Hautala, Danuta Hübner, and Sylvie Guillaume), was signed by MEPs from various political groupings, including the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Greens. It calls on Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, to address the opacity of Council decision making, which an accompanying press release describes as “a veritable ‘black box’ which has been lagging far behind the Parliament and Commission on transparency provisions”.

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Dutch parliament solicits advice on EU transparency from Venice Commission

February 27th, 2019

On 20 February, the Dutch parliament adopted a motion concerning the EU’s transparency policy.

The motion underlines the fundamental democratic importance of transparency as well as the risk-sharing and redistributive character of the Eurozone, followed by a request to the Venice Commission to issue an advice on “possible shortcomings and possible improvements to the democratic oversight of the European Union and the Eurozone by the Dutch parliament”. In particular, it requests the Venice Commission to focus on transparency of the legislative process, particularly trilogues, the EU’s budget and other financial resources, the Eurogroup and the ESM, the ECB, and the oversight of financial institutions under the Banking Union.

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New article on the trade-off between transparency and efficiency

February 22nd, 2019

A new article in the Journal of European Public Policy takes a closer look at the purported trade-off between transparency and efficiency.

The tension between transparency and efficiency in the context of the Council of the European Union is as often invoked as it remains unclarified. In a new article in the Journal of European Public Policy, Stéphanie Novak (Ca’Foscari University Venice) and Maarten Hillebrandt (Bielefeld University) ask to what extent these two sources of legitimacy are really incompatible as is so routinely claimed, by exploring the premises and the coherence of the trade-off argument. They argue that the argument is unclear at its core because of the multiple meanings of efficiency. Upon a closer examination of the logical premises of the various claims postulated in defence of the presence of a trade-off, they further find that while the trade-off is in some instances more plausible than in others, transparency does not necessarily threaten efficiency and can sometimes even increase it. The presumed correlation between secrecy and efficiency, on which the trade-off is implicitly based, can also be questioned, not only on theoretical but also on empirical grounds. The authors conclude that, all in all, the trade-off argument forms a generally contingent and often questionable basis for limiting transparency.

The article can be accessed here.

New article debunks common myths around EU Council transparency

January 5th, 2019

A recent article in Politique Européenne by Maarten Hillebrandt (Bielefeld University) deals with the question of the development of transparency policy in the Council of the European Union. The development path of transparency in the Council is often regarded by outsiders with scepticism. After all, before 1992, the EU’s most ‘intergovernmental’ institution was known for its pervasive diplomatic secrecy. According to insiders, twenty-five years on, continuous external pressure would have made the Council considerably more transparent, in spite of all its resistances. This characterisation of a transparency-hostile Council overrun by external ‘transparency forces’ may however be too schematic.

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Transparency news reports in 2018

November 21st, 2018

Politico/EPA/Stephanie Lecocq

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 2018. Digests of previous years are searchable via the category “news reports” at the bottom of this post. Recent news reports on EU transparency can also be found on the sidebar to the right of this post.

 

Main themes in 2018

In 2018, news reporting on EU transparency issues predominantly focussed on the European Ombudsman’s criticism of Council decision making, EP discretionary budgets, and Commission measures to enhance the visibility of (the rules around) lobbying activities.

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Dissertation on EU Council transparency wins Dutch-Flemmish annual dissertation prize

November 2nd, 2018

On 1 November, the Dutch Association for Public Administration awarded Maarten Hillebrandt the Van Poelje Prize for his dissertation entitled Living Transparency. The development of access to documents in the Council of the EU and its democratic implications.

The Van Poelje Prize, which is named after Gerrit Abraham van Poelje, one of the founders of the discipline of publich administration in the Netherlands, is awarded once a year to the best dissertation written in the field of public administration. The jury report commended Hillebrandt’s dissertation for its “very relevant and topical new insights in the variation in transparency in different Council formations, the very rigorous conceptual and empirical work, based on document analysis, interview, and process tracing”. The dissertation is freely downloadable here. Other dissertations on the shortlist were written on co-production of public services (Carola van Eijk, Leiden University) and anti-corruption policy (Hortense Jongen, Maastricht University).

Below, Maarten’s word of thanks upon receiving the Van Poelje Prize is reproduced in English, followed by a Dutch translation.

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Council of EU undergoing full reorientation on transparency question

August 2nd, 2018

On Wednesday 18 July 2018, the committee  of ambassadors of the member states to the EU (Coreper) held an orientational debate about the need for reforms of the Council’s transparency policy, thus Agence Europe reports.

The debate, which appears as the opening move in a further series of discussions about potential changes to the Council’s internal transparency policy, was based on a series of proposals drafted by the Council’s Secretariat. This document discusses possible and necessary changes in the face of new case law and further external pressures.

The proposals include, inter alia, ways to make the legislative process more traceable and ‘readable’, to apply more consistent rules in the drafting of legislative documents, and to centre transparency around “milestones” in the legislative process. Furthermore, it puts forward a plan to ‘normalise’ the publication of member state inputs (statements, proposals for amendments) into legislative debates. Under the current rules, the Council applies a fragmented policy by which member state inputs are sometimes recorded in the official documents, and sometimes not at all. The Council has so far been able to apply this policy since the formal rules do not stipulate how a legislative document is supposed to be drafted.

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Landmark access case requires Parliament to publish legislative negotiation documents fully and immediately

March 29th, 2018

Emilio de Capitani (photo credit: EUD Observatory/YouTube)

In a landmark case delivered on Thursday 22 March, the EU’s General Court requires the European Parliament to publish legislative negotiation documents (known by EU insiders as the “trilogue four-column document”) not only fully, but also immediately.

Case T-540/15 was brought by Emilio de Capitani, who had been refused access to the full negotiation document in ongoing legislative processes in the area of justice and home affairs.

Against the Parliament’s assertion that access to the full document could not be granted while negotiations were under way without jeopardising the legislative process, the Court found that no legal grounds existed in the access to documents act (Regulation 1049/01) to postpone disclosure of the document, as the act states should be the legal default position.

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