MEPs publish open letter to upcoming Council Presidency concerning transparency

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”.

Beyond a call for the upcoming Finnish Presidency to bring transparency back to the top of the Council agenda, the letter includes a list of demands, including a ban on corporate sponsorship for Council Presidencies, a call on the Council to join the EU Transparency Register, the proactive publication of all lobby meetings held by the Finnish Permanent Representation in Brussels, the public release of all Council working party meeting minutes including negotiating positions (an issue that the Council is currently considering in a large overhaul of its internal transparency procedures); and a review of the practice of inviting lobbyists to address Council working party meetings.

The letter’s authors decried corporate lobbying power in the Council as “outrageous” and a “big black hole” (Schirdewan MEP), but also highlighted the good timing for reform with the entry into office of a new Parliament (Hautala MEP), to bring Council standards in line with those of the Parliament and the Commission (Leinen MEP).

The Council has since long been criticised for the opacity of its decision-making processes. The Council’s hybrid functioning as a legislative body and an intergovernmental platform for non-legislative activities such as foreign policy formation and Commission oversight continue to obfuscate debates over the appropriate transparency standards to which it should adhere. In terms of legislative activities however, its co-legislator, the Parliament, has been characterised by researchers as significantly more transparent.

The MEPs’ letter can be accessed here.