Archive for the ‘Practice’ Category

European Ombudsman inquiry criticises Council’s legislative opacity

Tuesday, 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.


Members of Dutch parliament present draft European Information Law

Friday, 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.


Dutch Presidency of the EU to host “transparency unconference”

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

logo-transparencycamp-europeThe Dutch government, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU, has recently announced that it will host a “transparency unconference” in Amsterdam on 1 June. The event, which has its own dedicated website is co-organised by the Dutch NGO Open State Foundation, which has as its mission the promotion of open data.

The term unconference stands for an “unscheduled conference, where you decide the agenda”. Among its objectives, the organisers pledge to go in a collective search for transparency innovations on the technological or other fronts. Participation to the event is free of charge.


Netherlands takes up the EU Presidency amidst both ambitions and concerns over transparency

Thursday, January 7th, 2016
Meeting Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Rutte welcomes Commission President Juncker to Amsterdam, while the other members of the Commission cue up. The welcoming ceremony is one of the rare occasions that the public will be able to view during the Commission’s visit to the Netherlands.

The European Commission will meet the Dutch chambers of parliament behind closed doors, at the latter’s request.

Yesterday, the European Commission arrived in the Netherlands for a series of meetings at the opening of the Dutch EU Presidency that last for the first half of 2016. An opening ceremony, including the taking of the traditional group photo, took place at Amsterdam’s stately Museum of Maritime History.

This official reception however appears to be a rare public occasion during the Commission’s stay in the Netherlands.

Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad today reported that the debate between the Dutch States-General (combining both the lower and the upper houses of parliament) and the European Commission, scheduled to take place today, will take place behind closed doors.


Inch by inch, the Council crawls towards greater transparency

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Non paper April 2015A new internal note reveals renewed efforts by a small group of member states to take Council transparency forward.

By Maarten Hillebrandt

The embattled EU is currently dealing with issues within, beyond, and on its borders all at the same time. Within its borders, the fresh conservative government of prime minister Cameron has made its first steps to arrange a ‘new deal’ for UK membership, while Hungarian first minister Orban insists that it can -and shall- continue a political debate about the death penalty. Outside of its borders, conflicts in a host of neighbouring countries, particularly Ukraine and Syria, are putting the EU’s security policy under pressure. And on the borders, tens of thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants are attempting the dangerous Mediterranean sea-crossing hoping to reach Italian -and thereby, European- soil.


No Democracy in the European Union Without Transparency

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

The EU’s accession to the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents would help strengthen transparency’s supportive role of transparency, guest blogger dr. Miguel Angel Blanes Climent argues.


Citizens do not ask the government for measures against corruption or lack of transparency. There are enough. We just want them to be enforced. There is no use in having the most advanced and ambitious standards against corruption and transparency then if they are not implemented or if the means to exercise them do not work because they are desperately slow due to the lack of funds or they are very expensive in terms of time and costs.

We are still missing the most important thing, a sincere political will to be transparent. And this attitude does not always exist. Of course, without the constant pressure of citizenship, the current attitude of authorities, officials or entities managing public funds will never change.

The challenge is served. Citizens should be aware of the importance for their daily lives and the benefits they can obtain if they demand transparency to entities managing public funds: corruption will be reduced and the waste of our money will be avoided.


Commission moves towards greater lobbying transparency

Monday, November 24th, 2014

B2371j8CMAAd-pWWithin a month in office, the incoming Juncker Commission announces its first tangible steps to increase disclosure relating to its lobbying contacts.

In an interesting move, Commissioner Timmermans (Better Regulation) two weeks ago circulated an internal note, which was soon leaked to the press, explaining the pending change. The note argued that “while contact with stakeholders is a natural and important part of the work of a member of the Commission, all such contacts should be conducted with transparency and members of the Commission should seek to ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet.”

As a consequence of this line, the 28 members of the Commission will be required to disclose on their websites all contacts with lobbyists as of 1 December. The EUObserver quoted Timmermans saying: “I think we have moved to a situation now where the public says to government ‘show me!’ And we want to show you”.


Incoming Commission Vice-President Timmermans calls for more transparency

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

timmermansnw208In his hearing before the European Parliament yesterday, incoming Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans pledged to introduce a change of culture into the EU’s decision making. This, he argued, includes much broader transparency than has been the case up until now.

Maarten Hillebrandt

The European Parliament, as well as the Brussels-based press corps, responded very positively to the eloquent polyglot, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one-time Minister of European Affairs. Timmermans answered questions from MEPs in Dutch, English, French, German, and Italian, and didn’t miss a chance to apologise for not speaking Polish and praising Poland for liberating his father’s home town at the end of the Second World War. According to expectation, Timmermans was approved for the position of First Vice-President and Commissioner for Better Regulation, European Human Rights hours after the hearing.

More interestingly for the readers of this blog, Timmermans capitalised on the need for the EU to bring its decision making closer to citizens. (more…)

Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP writes op-ed on lack of transparency in the EU

Monday, September 29th, 2014

SONY DSCSophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Democrats ’66 / ALDE party, laments the apparent lack of EU transparency in an op-ed on European news website “Trust in government and politics, both national and European, is at an all-time low, and the key to restoring trust is transparency.”

In her opinion article, likens the EU’s mentality to that of Sir Humphreys, the fictive British Prime Minister’s advisor in BBC hit series Yes, Minister: “Open government, Prime Minister. Freedom of information. We should always tell the press freely and frankly anything that they could easily find out some other way.” According to In ‘t Veld, it is apparent that the EU is developing towards a parliamentary democracy where citizens take ownership, and where transparency and accountability have a central role. The EU’s tradition of diplomatic and secretive decision making, she argues,  is outdated. “Sorry Sir Humphrey, you are a man of the past. Transparency is the future.”


Transparency of EP committee votes kept off the agenda

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

800px-Fraktionssitzung_Nr_21The EP’s two largest political groupings, the EPP (people’s parties) and S&D (social democrats), are keeping the item of public voting in parliamentary committees off the agenda.

Thus reported the EUObserver last week. The proposal entailed a change to the rules of procedure, and would make it compulsory for parliamentary committee’s final votes in legislative procedures to be digitally recorded and made public. The rationale behind this proposal is, inter alia, that many decision-making procedures are barely publicly debated in parliament before they are voted on. Legislative drafts often become directly subject of interinstitutional negotiations between the EU’s two legislative bodies (the EP and the Council), and are discussed in said parliamentary committees, whose meetings frequently take place behind closed doors. The compulsory vote proposal, which has now been put back into drawer, would restore some of the public accountability that is lost in the informal negotiation process.