The European Ombudsman is currently researching the transparency of the Council of the EU in a strategic inquiry. Can citizens know, during the legislative process of the EU, what options are being discussed and what positions member states take during the negotiations? Transparency gives citizens the option to hold their elected representatives and governments to account.

Documents not accessible

Relating to proper documentation, the Ombudsman found inconsistencies in how the Council preparatory bodies record documents and make them available to the public. In addition, the Ombudsman found that the marking of documents with a LIMITE (limited) status is almost automatic. This prevents these documents to be made available to the wider public. The LIMITE status is given to documents by civil servants, not by politicians or diplomats. Usually only after legislative files have been decided upon, is the LIMITE status lifted.

Member States’ positions unknown

With regard to member states’ positions in the Council, the permanent representations (embassies) of the member states argued that they have no obligation to report on this. Very strange, considering that, as the Ombudsman observers, “member state representatives involved in legislative work are EU legislators and should be accountable as such”. These are very bad examples of 21st century governance; nowadays, institutions should pro-actively report to their citizens.

The Ombudsman concludes that the Council’s approach amounts to maladministration at the moment. The Council should be more transparent and make its legislative documents directly accessible to the public, as well as recording the identities of member states that take a position.

 

Here is the link to the Ombudsman recommendations:

  1. Systematically record the identities of Member States expressing positions in preparatory bodies.
  2. Develop clear and publicly available criteria for the application of the ‘LIMITE’ status, in line with EU law.
  3. Systematically review the ‘LIMITE’ status of documents at an early stage, before the final adoption of a legislative act, including before informal negotiations in ‘trilogues’, at which point in time the Council will have reached an initial position on the proposal.
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