Since September 2014, the Open Government in the EU blog scans English-language online news outlets for news on EU transparency. Below, you can find the news digest for 2020.
Central points in news coverage were the use of transparency to fight disinformation, transparency of measures and institutional changes related to the corona pandemic, as well as the German Presidency’s efforts to better regulate the visibility of Council decision making and lobbying activities.
Main themes in 2020
In 2020, the problem of strategic information manipulation and false representation of EU-related information received increasing attention. Media reported how the Commission dubbed information contained in a Hungarian referendum related to EU membership as ‘fake news’, and launched regulatory plans to counter the spread of election disinformation on social media platforms and regarding the corona pandemic.
As the global outbreak of the corona virus got underway from the end of February, increasing attention was not only given to the EU’s handling of containment efforts (particularly as regards its negotiations of vaccine deals with pharmaceutics companies), but also on the consequences of the restrictive measures for the transparency of daily business inside the institutions. In April and July, the Ombudsman opened investigations into the matter.
The Council’s secrecy remains an evergreen in reporting on transparency at EU level. At the beginning of the year pan-European investigative journalist collective Investigate Europe launched its long-term project of coverage of political decision making in the Council, publishing interviews with critical observers including the Ombudsman and NGOs but also a politician and a diplomat inside the institution. Other articles addressed the (lack of) plans to improve transparency of the respective forthcoming German and Portuguese Presidencies.
Like the secrecy surrounding Council decision making, the question of lobbying has been a dragging issue. In 2020, it provided new impetus for critical media coverage concerning the central role of lobby activity and a scandal around a registration in the register. In the middle of the year, interinstitutional negotiations for a mandatory joint lobby register pick up again, more than a year after they were broken off. This resulted in the adoption, at the end of the year, of a long-awaited interinstitutional agreement that was immediately widely criticised for lacking any teeth, including by an academic observer on this blog who argued that the deal “stretches the definition of mandatory beyond normal uses of the word”.
A chronological overview of media reports as tracked by this blog can be found below.
Most recent news reports on EU transparency can also be found on the sidebar to the right of this post.
See also the news report digests for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 (first quarter, second quarter, and second half), and 2014 (last quarter).
Overview of news reports
January – March
01/01/20// Investigate Europe: Secrets of the Council
29/01/20// Politico: German spy suspect disappears from EU lobbying register
30/01/20// Politico: EU opens internal investigation over German spy suspect
08/02/20// Heidi Hautala: On lobby transparency, Finnish embassy to the EU leads by example: other government representations need to follow
14/02/20// EUObserver: EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal
19/02/20// EU Reporter: Commissioner Hogan announces new Transparency package
28/02/20// New Europe: EASME: Temple of Transparency
05/03/20// AccessInfoEurope: Call for Transparency of Frontex
09/03/20// EUObserver: How corporate lobbyists steer EU law-making
27/03/20// Investigate Europe: Unblocking Portugal – the secret votes behind corporate tax transparency
April – June
22/05/20// Politico: EU Influence: Tele-transparency
11/06/20// EUObserver: EU says Orban’s new national poll contains ‘fake news’
12/06/20// CEO: MEPs urge Merkel to boost transparency and tackle privileged access during EU Presidency
12/06/20// Politico: MEPs urge transparency ahead of German Council presidency
12/06/20// Euractiv: Opinion: Weaponizing transparency: Dealing with security risks of Chinese investments
19/06/20// Politico: EU Influence: Transparency talks resume
22/06/20// EUObserver: Online election ad transparency in EU ‘insufficient’
23/06/20// Investigate Europe: EU transparency reforms can’t be left half done
July – September
02/07/20// EUObserver: EU still not pro-actively declaring tobacco meetings
03/07/20// Politico: EU Influence: Tracking MEP transparency
03/07/20// EUObserver: EU parliament chairs explain missing lobbyist meetings
08/07/20// EUObserver: Opinion: Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy
15/07/20// ECER: Kabinet stuurt totaaloverzicht afspraken EU-informatievoorziening aan parlement (in Dutch)
17/07/20// Politico: EU Influence: Council transparency win
23/07/20// Euractiv: ‘Utmost importance’ for transparency rules on political ads, EU report says
30/07/20// ECER: Raad vergroot transparantie van het wetgevingsproces (in Dutch)
22/09/20// Euractiv: MEPs raise concerns on EU plans for police facial recognition database
22/09/20// Euractiv: MEPs call for transparency in race for COVID vaccine amid rising vaccine hesitancy
30/09/20// RECONNECT blog: Transparency in EU Trade Policy
October – December
30/09/20// EUObserver: Celebrate with us. EUobserver’s 20 years of independent EU news
08/10/20// EUObserver: Opinion: The EU Commission rule-of-law report: wrong in so many ways
08/10/20// Euronews: Opinion: Portugal believes in justice and transparency. The European Council does too
08/10/20// EUObserver: EU warns online platforms to do more on coronavirus fake news
19/10/20// EUObserver: Violating promises and law, von der Leyen tests patience
26/10/20// Euractiv: Transparency in the race for a COVID vaccine
06/11/20// EUObserver: Transparency fight hones in on releasing EU text messages
30/11/20// Investigate Europe: Michael Roth, German Minister of State for Europe: ‘We are committed to making more of the work in the Council public’
30/11/20// Investigate Europe: Emilio De Capitani, former head of unit at the Public Liberties Committee: ‘Informal meetings are part of the legislative process and therefore must be public’
02/12/20// Politico: Shot in the dark: Commission under fire for lack of vaccine transparency
02/12/20// EUObserver: Frontex takes transparency activists to EU court
02/12/20// Investigate Europe: Emily O’Reilly, EU Ombudsman: ‘The Council should record the member states’ positions’
03/12/20// Euractiv: No ‘ministry of truth’, EU vows at democracy action plan launch
04/12/20// EUObserver: EU Commission plans sanctions on disinformation
07/12/20// Politico: Czech PM Babiš faces long road after EU audit
07/12/20// Open Democracy: Behind closed doors: secret deals in the Council of the EU
08/12/20// Politico: EU lobby register falls short of transparency demands
08/12/20// Investigate Europe: Pierre Sellal, France’s former Permanent Representative to the EU: ‘You should not ask each delegation to strictly record its position’
09/12/20// EUObserver: ‘Major shortcomings’ in new EU lobby register, says NGO
16/12/20// Investigate Europe: Interview with Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk
17/12/20// CEO: NGOs demand Portuguese EU Presidency puts public interest centre stage
17/12/20// EUObserver: Portuguese EU presidency pressed over transparency
17/12/20// EUObserver: New EU lobbyist register not mandatory, critics say
17/12/20// Politico: Belgian secretary of state accidentally reveals EU vaccine prices
21/12/20// Investigate Europe: Interview with Anne Friel and Jenni Grossmann from ClientEarth