Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Sixth Report

11 European Transparency



COM(06) 194

Green Paper on the European Transparency Initiative

Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 12 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-xxxii (2005-06), para 4 (21 June 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


11.1 In the introduction to the Green Paper, which we considered on 21 June 2006, the Commission says that, with a commitment to widen opportunities for stakeholders to participate actively in EU policy-shaping as one of the "Strategic Objectives 2005-2009", it launched a "Partnership for European Renewal".[35] This emphasised that "inherent in the idea of partnership is consultation and participation" and stressed the importance of a "high level of transparency" to ensure that the Union is "open to public scrutiny and accountable for its work". The Commission says "high standards of transparency are part of the legitimacy of any modern administration" and that "the European public is entitled to expect efficient, accountable and service-minded public institutions and that the power and resources entrusted to political and public bodies are handled with care and never abused for personal gain". Against this background, the Commission launched the "European Transparency Initiative" (ETI) in November 2005.[36]

The Green Paper

11.2 The report identifies three ETI key components which should be "driven forward": the need for a more structured framework for the activities of "interest representatives" (i.e., lobbyists); feedback on the Commission's minimum standards for consultation; and the mandatory disclosure of information about the beneficiaries of EU funds under shared management. The Commission's new system to ensure greater transparency would comprise:

—  a voluntary registration system: run by the Commission, with clear incentives for lobbyists to register; compulsory registration not appropriate, though a review should be conducted to examine whether self-regulation has worked;

—  a common code of conduct: to be developed by the lobbying profession; and

—  a system of monitoring and sanctions: The report proposes that they should be applied in all cases of incorrect registration and/or breach of the code of conduct.

11.3 The report also outlined the need to raise awareness of the use of EU money, notably by explaining better what Europe does and why it matters. The CAP and fisheries policies, the Structural and Cohesion Funds and the European Refugees Fund make up 75.7% of the EU budget (€86.6 billion a year). They are implemented under a shared-management formula which means that, when EU citizens ask the Commission for information on the use of the EU budget, it either does not have the information or does not have the right to hand it out without the prior agreement of the Member State concerned. In order to promote transparency, the report proposes a new EU legal framework, directly applicable in all Member States, to ensure a consistent approach to all beneficiaries of EU funds.

11.4 A consultation began on 6 May, and will end on 31 August.

11.5 When we considered the Minister for Europe's 15 June Explanatory Memorandum, we concluded that expressing support for "the broad thrust of this Green Paper" was inadequate, and asked him to say what he thinks of the proposals, and what reply the Government planned to offer.[37]

The Minister's letter

11.6 In his 12 July letter, the Minister for Europe (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) undertakes to send the detailed Government response as it is submitted to the Commission; but, conscious that this will be during the Parliamentary recess, hopes that his letter provides us with the information that we requested before the House rises. After caveats about these being initial thoughts and the inappropriateness of further comment before completing a formal consultation exercise involving other Government Departments, the Devolved Administrations and relevant stakeholders, the Minister continues as follows:

    "I believe lobbying should be as transparent as circumstances allow. This should result in more effective legislation and increased public faith in the decision-making processes of the EU Institutions. It is important to examine the resource implications of the Commission's proposals in more detail to ensure that the benefits of increased transparency are weighed against the potential costs.

    "On the one hand, setting up a publicly available register of lobbyists would be likely to result in a more transparent system, which we support. However, if the costs involved in managing a system were significant we would wish to ensure that these did not fall to EU taxpayers. Consultation would be required to decide what information lobby groups should be expected to provide.

    "Consolidating the existing codes of conduct would clarify lobbying procedures for both EU citizens and lobbyists, this would therefore seem to be a sensible suggestion.

    "On the issue of a new external watchdog to monitor compliance, our initial view based on the information currently available is that we would want to avoid creating another agency requiring extensive funding. However further discussion on the composition of this body would be needed. Regarding the application of sanctions for breaches of a voluntary code of conduct, I would need to consider the details of any proposed scheme before reaching a view.

    "The UK has strongly upheld the principle of transparency with regard to informing EU taxpayers as to how the Community budget is spent, and would support the proposal for mandatory disclosure of information about the beneficiaries of EU funding. Of course, we would have to take the financial and administrative implications of gathering this information, into account."


11.7 We do, as the Minister suggests, appreciate that it would be inappropriate for him to comment further, before completing a formal consultation exercise involving other Government Departments, the Devolved Administrations and relevant stakeholders. That said, it is difficult to see why he could not have said what he says now at the outset: it is no more than the House could have expected and no less than it deserves.

11.8 We continue to consider the Green Paper relevant to the debate we have already recommended on the Commission Communication on "the Citizens' Agenda".

11.9 We also look forward to hearing the Minister's considered views, once the consultation to which he refers has been concluded.

11.10 Until then, we shall continue to keep the document under scrutiny.

35   COM(05) 12. Back

36   SEC(05) 1300. Back

37   HC 34-xxxii (2005-06), para 4 (21 June 2006). Back

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