European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said today that the Council of the EU’s current practices inhibits the scrutiny of draft EU legislation and undermines the right of citizens to hold their representatives to account. She even went so far as to say that it constituted “maladministration” on the part of the Council.
Current approach risks “alienating citizens”
The Ombudsman called on the Council to record member state positions in preparatory meetings, and also to make these documents “proactively available to the public in a timely manner.” She also wants a clear of criteria for using LIMITE, the marking for documents not for public consumption.
“It’s almost impossible for citizens to follow the legislative discussions in the Council between national government representatives. This ‘behind-closed-doors’ approach risks alienating citizens and feeding negative sentiment,” said Ms O’Reilly.
“Making the EU legislative process more accountable to the public, by being more open, would send an important signal ahead of the European elections in 2019.”
The investigation also pointed out how different working groups were handling documentation differently, and recommended that the Council adopt guidelines so a standard procedure can be followed by all bodies.
The Ombudsman expects a reply to their recommendations by the 9th May 2018, but nothing forces the Council to make any changes.
Many decisions made in closed-off preparatory bodies
Under current rules, the Council and European Parliament are joint legislators on most pieces of proposed legislation in the EU.
Before decisions are made by ministers in the EU Council, many meetings take part in preparatory bodies, chaired by member state civil servants. In a lot of cases, many decisions and discussions take place here, but the public don’t have the same access to documents at this level currently.
In contrast, the investigation pointed to how the European Parliament already has “a high degree of transparency, and thus accountability, when handling legislation.”