European Ombudsman severly criticises the lack of transparency within the Council

18 May 2018 | Civic Space, Civil Dialogue

Following her inquiry into the transparency of legislative discussions in the preparatory bodies of the Council of the EU (the ‘Council’), the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has issued a special report to the European Parliament to seek its support on the matter.

She notably pointed out that the Council, the body representing the Member States at the European level, was not a “star pupil” when it comes to transparency in its meetings and decision-making processes. While aknowledging that other institutions, such as the European Commission have made efforts towards more transparent functioning, Mr. O’Reilly asked the European Parliament to support her and so backed the numerous findings from civil society organisations on this issue.

In order also for citizens to be able to hold their governments to account for the decisions they make on EU laws, they need to know how their governments positioned themselves during the legislative process. Making such information public would also oblige Member State governments to assume greater responsibility for this legislation and discourage them from ‘blaming Brussels’ for EU laws they themselves helped to shape and adopt.

She insisted on the need to document and make accessible the preparatory discussions and work that takes place in advance of meetings between heads of states or ministers.

National representatives are democratically accountable to national parliaments . . . To hold government to account they need to know how governments position themselves in the legislative process. This is lacking [at the European Council level].

In a consultation she launched last year, the Ombudsman asked for inputs and recommendations from all stakeholders, including civil society organisations. A recommendation was formulated by Transparency International EU’s office too, which welcomed the move made by Mrs. O’Reilly.

Although the meetings between heads of states and/or ministers are generally covered by the media and commented, it is very hard to access information on the different positions by the member states. The European Council, where the national egos are naturally the strongest, is in charge of co-deciding with the European Parliament on proposals formulated by the European Commission.