Oversight Research

ECI researcher provides expert testimony in Dutch Parliament’s European Affairs Committee

Round table on EU information provision hears Aidan O’Sullivan (European Ombudsman), Maarten Hillebrandt (Eric Castrén Institute and Meijers Committee) and Mendeltje van Keulen (Hague University of Applied Science) provide testimony on public access to documents and parliamentary scrutiny.

Photo: screen shot from Debat Gemist

On 2 February 2022, the Dutch Parliament’s European Affairs Committee held a roundtable discussion on EU information provision. The hybrid meeting brought together MPs from both parties in government and the opposition to exchange views with a number of experts in the field of EU transparency law and policy and the EU information position of national parliaments, specifically the Dutch parliament. All of the speakers submitted a position paper ahead of the meeting.

The meeting was broken up in two sessions. The first, dealing with the public right of access to EU documents saw remarks by Aidan O’Sullivan, chef de cabinet at the European Ombudsman, and Maarten Hillebrandt, member of the Meijers Committee and researcher at the Eric Castrén Institute, who edits this blog. This session took place in English. Issues that were raised were the opacity of trilogue legislative negotiations, the secrecy of member state negotiations, and the preponderance of various types of informal documents less visible to the public. Also the problematics of the concept of a ‘document’ were raised with reference to the European Ombudsman’s recent ruling on the Commission’s decision not to recognise SMS messages written by its President Von der Leyen as documents for the purpose of Regulation 1049/2001.

In the second session, Mendeltje van Keulen presented the findings of her recent policy evaluation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the functioning of the Dutch Parliament’s information agreements with the government. The Dutch Parliament’s information position is laid down in detail in a letter of the European Affairs Committee to Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is subject to an annual debate and revision. The next such meeting will take place on 10 February, with newly appointed Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra representing the government. Van Keulen represented the Dutch Parliament’s information position as unparalleled in a European comparative perspective, but still marked by some black spots. She advocated for more selective information flows, and better information exchanges between MPs and Brussels, interparliamentary, and electoral networks. In 2017, two Dutch MPs tabled a parliamentary bill for a European Information Law. Due to parliamentary calculus at the time, this draft law has been stranded in parliament since then. However, a new coalition agreement announced in December foresees in the adoption of such a law by the new government.

The Dutch Parliament’s European Affairs Committee regularly holds debates concerning upcoming Council meetings, and delegates EU decision-making dossiers to the Parliament’s other committees. Periodically, it also organises roundtables on EU information and other EU-related topics of interest. Both the Dutch Parliament and government are generally regarded as strongly pro-transparency and relatively active on this policy question.

The roundtable can be viewed back here.