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 2021.
Central topics in news coverage were opacities caused by the corona pandemic and the rule of law crisis, and the potential reform of the EU’s access to documents regulation.
Euronews correspondent Meabh Mcmahon in front of the European Parliament. Credit: The Drum.
The fanning out of transparency
In 2021, a total of 116 English-language news reports were identified as relating to a diverse range of EU transparency issues. Scandal and scrutiny remained bread and butter topics of reporting related to transparency. Thus, we find continued critical reporting on evergreen topics such as EU expenditure, the decisional opacity of the Council, and various EU bodies’ engagement with access to document requests. In 2021, the case of Frontex and its engagement with external scrutiny particularly stood out, in what may be described as a devastating year for the agency’s accountability image.
In other cases, specific new policy probes or legislative proposals expanded the scope of interest beyond the ordinary. For example, new efforts and perceived failures to regulate the transparency of corporate taxation attracted some media attention, as did the negotiations and subsequent launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe with regard to its publicity and participation format. The classic high-publicity subject of lobbying and its regulation reached a peak in 2021 with the conclusion of an interinstitutional agreement complemented by various internal guidelines.
However, three areas particularly stood out as the mediatised transparency topics of 2021: the response to the coronavirus pandemic and its various consequences, contemporary challenges to European democracy, and discussions on the future of access to documents regulation.
EU transparency in 2021: coronavirus, democracy, and legislative reform
European Commission President Von der Leyen faced criticism for deleting text messages exchanged with the CEO of Pfizer. Photo credit: Der Spiegel.
The second year of the
coronavirus pandemic had clear reverberations with questions of transparent governance, which were regularly covered by the media. Having finalised the development of vaccines by the start of the year, questions initially revolved around the speed of rollout and related global competition for jabs. Gradually however, the focus shifted to accountability questions of the opacity of the EU’s early response and procurement process, the effects of remote decision making on traceability and the document trail, and potential future risks related to questions such as RRF expenditure and opportunities for press scrutiny.
The Council received pushback for failing to disclose legal advice related to the rule of law conditionality regulation.
2021 also was the year in which the EU was inescapably confronted with issues related to the
Union’s democratic functioning and growing challenges to various democratic freedoms. The rule of law began to cross paths with transparency, as outsiders sought to scrutinise the EU’s response to conflicts with Hungary and Poland over rule of law conditionality for obtaining EU funding. Inter alia, media covered a conflict over the non-disclosure of EU legal advice in a legislative procedure, a confidential anti-corruption probe implicating the Hungarian government, and the Council and Commission’s general ambiguity on the subject. Moreover, the first steps were taken towards regulating the transparency of political communications through social media and targeted political advertising.
European Ombudsman O’Reilly reopened the discussion on the revision of Regulation 1049/2001 on access to EU documents.
Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents celebrated its twentieth anniversary. This fact was marked by various (online or hybrid) events, including a well-publicised conference by the European Ombudsman in November. In general, questions surrounding the practical effectiveness of the regulation have been gaining growing attention in media reports, which has led to the exposure of mass deletion of emails, and questions about the functioning of registers in specific and the access regime more generally. This has most recently led to the reopening of the revision discussion, after years of stagnation.
Overview of news reports
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 at the bottom of this page.
See also the news report digests for
2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 ( first quarter, second quarter, and second half), and 2014 ( last quarter).
06/01/21// EPHA: How the EU can increase transparency and dialogue when developing international trade
12/01/21// EU Law Live: Op-Ed: “New Year, New Transparency Register?”
13/01/21// Politico: Jourová: Big Tech’s Trump ban ‘dangerous for free speech’
14/01/21// Investigate Europe: Interview with Leo Hoffman-Axthelm of Transparency International
18/01/21// EUObserver: Frontex spent €94,000 on a dinner in Warsaw
18/01/21// EUObserver: Frontex and Europol pledge greater access to documents
19/01/21// Statewatch: EU: New transparency obligations for justice and home affairs agencies following Statewatch complaints
22/01/21// Investigate Europe: A year into our investigation, the Council has some answers
26/01/21// European Interest: Debate on top 50 EU money recipients: MEPs push for more transparency
26/01/21// European Interest: More transparency in the EU institutions will increase citizens’ trust and participation
27/01/21// Reuters: Canada PM Trudeau says EU’s transparency measures will not affect vaccine deliveries
08/02/21// EUObserver: Portugal vs Germany clash on EU corporate tax avoidance
09/02/21// Politico: Brussels Playbook: COVID transparency
25/02/21// EULawLive: European Ombudsman finds no maladministration in ECB’s refusal to grant access to confidential documents (paywall)
01/03/21// EUObserver: ‘Big Five’ tech giants spent €19m lobbying EU in 2020
04/03/21// Euractiv: Talks on EU corporate tax transparency law to start ‘very soon’
04/03/21// Euronews: EU member states push forward with new tax transparency rules
09/03/21// Euractiv: Closed-door copyright meetings ‘taint’ EU transparency, MEPs warn
09/03/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman: requests for public access to information should be dealt with promptly in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic
10/03/21// Arab News: EU says ‘transparency’ a must to lure investments
10/03/21// EUObserver: Report exposes tobacco industry’s EU lobbying tactics
12/03/21// Republic World: EU Extends COVID Vaccine Export Transparency System
12/03/21// France24: ECDC ‘didn’t have information’ to mitigate start of Covid-19 pandemic: EU Ombudsman
13/03/21// Republic World: Kurz Urges Transparency In EU Vaccine Distribution
23/03/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman finds no maladministration in Commission’s transparency mechanisms regarding purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, but suggests certain improvements
23/03/21// EUObserver: Frontex redacts its hospitality spending figures
23/03/21// Bloomberg: Corporate Tax Transparency Inches Toward Reality in EU Talks
26/03/21// Independent: Von der Leyen takes swipe at UK over ‘transparency’ and says AstraZeneca must ‘catch up’ on vaccines to EU
27/03/21// Food Safety News: EU rules on risk assessment come into force; reviews continue
29/03/21// EUObserver: Frontex is its own worst enemy
30/03/21// Midlands News: “Ridiculous” Lack Of Transparency In EU Vaccine Procurement, Says Ombudsman
31/03/21// Agence Europe: European Ombudsman calls on EU Council to improve transparency of its remote decision-making process
31/03/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman’s view on transparency in Council of EU’s COVID-19 decision-making
02/04/21// Euronews: Five years since the Panama Papers, what is EU doing to tackle tax abuse?
07/04/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman finds no maladministration in Frontex’s refusal to provide documents containing tracking data of vessels used in its maritime operations
09/04/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman advises Commission on how to improve public access to and proactive publicity of confirmatory decisions
10/04/21// Politico: Remembering the Euroskeptic Brussels actually liked
15/04/21// EUObserver: MEPs reject greater transparency in hidden vote
19/04/21// Euractiv: EU institutions launch online platform of Conference on the Future of Europe
19/04/21// EUObserver: Frontex guilty of inflating legal fees against activists
20/04/21// Brussels Times: Conference of the Future of Europe starts with digital platform for citizens’ debate
22/04/21// Politico: Günther Oettinger: Europe’s Mr. Revolving Door
22/04/21// Politico: Brussels Playbook: Council defeat
23/04/21// Politico: Brussels Playbook: Rule of law follow-up
23/04/21// EU Law Live: Council publishes report on implementation of Access to Documents Regulation
27/04/21// EU Law Live Podcast: A talk with Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe
27/04/21// Euronews: MEPs vote for ‘mandatory’ lobbying register – but critics say it doesn’t go far enough
29/04/21// EUObserver: Leading MEP: ‘anti-democratic’ to meet only registered lobbyists
06/05/21// EU Law Live: New rules imposing registration of interest representatives in the Transparency Register adopted by the Council
07/05/21// EUObserver: MEPs win battle for bigger citizens’ voice at Conference
12/05/21// EUObserver: Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
12/05/21// EU Law Live: General Court annuls Commission decision refusing to register citizens’ initiative for failure to reason it being out of the scope of CCP
13/05/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman closes inquiry on transparency of advance purchase agreements for Covid-19 vaccines but the Commission to reinforce transparency in this area
15/05/21// Economist: The power of lobbyists is growing in Brussels and Berlin
17/05/21// Euractiv: Brussels reporters worried about Commission’s post-pandemic press ‘ideas’
18/05/21// EU Law Live: General Court to rule on Commission’s refusal to grant access to documents related to the purchase and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines
20/05/21// Investigate Europe: CbcR: Will the push for greater EU tax transparency fall at the final hurdle?
21/05/21// EUObserver: New EU ethics body takes shape
21/05/21// EU Law Live: Access to documents concerning the legislative process: action brought by Emilio De Capitani against Council
24/05/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman launches broad inquiry into Commission handling of staff ‘revolving doors’ cases
26/05/21// Transparency International: 404 beneficial owner not found: Are EU public registers in place & really public?
26/05/21// IEU Monitoring: EU Parliament: Time for a new statute for the European Ombudsman
26/05/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman closes inquiry on EIOPA after it agrees to disclose information on its Board of Supervisors’s debates and votes on a draft RTS
31/05/21// Politico: Ex-Google boss slams transparency rules in Europe’s AI bill
01/06/21// Ends Europe: NGOs rejoin EU green finance panel after new transparency pledge
02/06/21// Reuters: EU reaches deal on tax transparency for multinational firms
07/06/21// Financial Review: Tax transparency is just the start
07/06/21// Politico: Brussels Playbook: Transparency? Oh please!
09/06/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman approves CINEA’s reply concerning complaint on public access
10/06/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman publishes annual report
11/06/21// EUObserver: Liberal MEPs under fire over Babiš abstention
11/06/21// EUObserver: MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence
21/06/21// EU Law Live: Conference on the Future of Europe plenary meets for the first time
21/06/21// EU Law Live: Council paves way for revision of European Ombudsman’s statute
23/06/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman finds no maladministration in OLAF’s refusal to give public access to call for tenders
24/06/21// Euractiv: Opinion: EU recovery plans will be a waste of time and money without transparency
24/06/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman: New Statute adopted by European Parliament
24/06/21// Politico: How ambassadors took over the EU
28/06/21// EU Law Live: Action against Commission for not granting access to documents before General Court published
19/07/21// EU Law Live: Classified Information in the EU: Court of Auditors Decision on how to ensure it remains secure
20/07/21// EU Law Live: AG Kokott: OLAF’s refusal to grant access to documents is subject to judicial review
25/08/21// EU Law Live: European Ombudsman closes case on the EDPS’s refusal to grant public access to documents
31/08/21// Euractiv: Commission won’t monitor lobbying access despite growing Big Tech pressure
13/09/21// Euractiv: Commission asks Greece for transparency on pushbacks to release migration funds
13/09/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman finds no maladministration by Commission in refusal to provide access to documents concerning rights of volunteer firefighters in France
13/09/21// EU Law Live: Insight: “The Conference on the Future of Europe: towards a new version of the European venture?” by Julia Fernández Arribas
23/09/21: Euractiv: Civil society calls for transparency in Commission’s rule of law report
24/09/21// EUObserver: EU states sign ‘transparency pledge’
28/09/21// Transparency International: People see low political integrity throughout the European Union
30/09/21// EndsEurope: Commission taken to court over lack of transparency in pesticides authorisation
04/10/21// EU Law Live: Action lodged against Commission for denying access to final report of an OLAF investigation
05/10/21// Politico: The web of connections behind Brussels lobbying
07/10/21// Devex: NGOs call out Team Europe for lack of transparency
07/10/21// Science Business: MEPs call for closer scrutiny of EU’s €6B health emergency authority
08/10/21// EU Law Live: Amendment to Aarhus Regulation officially published
12/10/21// Undercurrent: Calls for greater transparency over EU fishing control efforts
12/10/21// Euractiv: NGOs concerned about role of big business in preparations of French EU presidency
20/10/21// EUObserver: Ombudsman seeks clarification in ‘revolving-door’ inquiry
26/10/21// Euractiv: Commission dismisses calls for more transparency in drafting CAP plans
02/11/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman finds maladministration in Commission’s handling of concerns on the composition of High Level Forum on Capital Markets Union
12/11/21// Politico: EU Influence: EU transparency
12/11/21// Der Spiegel: The European Commission Deletes Mass Amounts of Emails and Doesn’t Archive Chats
15/11/21// EUObserver: Opinion: 20 years of public access to EU documents: time for makeover?
16/11/21// EUObserver: EU Commission promises only minor update on transparency
17/11/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman calls for modernisation of Access to Documents Regulation
19/11/21// EUObserver: New EIB transparency policy hit by immediate criticism
19/11/21// EU Law Live: Ombudsman: Commission should require declarations of interest of experts invited in their personal capacity for stakeholder workshop
24/11/21// Reuters: EU rules aim for more transparency in targeted political ads
25/11/21// EU Law Live: Commission presents proposal on transparency and targeting of political advertising
30/11/21// Euractiv: Opinion: How new, binding EU transparency standards for political advertising could be even higher
01/12/21// Statewatch: EU: Spin it to win it: Frontex seeks public relations support
07/12/21// EU Law Live: General Court to rule on access to Commission documents on alleged benefits to public health from EU COVID-19 restrictions
16/12/21// EU Reporter: Transparency lawsuit against secret EU surveillance research: MEP Patrick Breyer achieves partial success in court
17/12/21// Biometric Update: Partial success in transparency lawsuit into EU’s AI lie detector research
20/12/21// Social Europe: Towards transparency by design in the EU
22/12/21// EUObserver: Opinion: Where is the transparency in the EU €2 trillion recovery?