11 European Transparency |
|Green Paper on the European Transparency Initiative
|Department||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration||Minister's letter of 12 July 2006
|Previous Committee Report||HC 34-xxxii (2005-06), para 4 (21 June 2006)
|To be discussed in Council||To be determined
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
|Committee's decision||Not 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".
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.
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:
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.
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
"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,
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
11.10 Until then, we shall continue to keep the
document under scrutiny.
35 COM(05) 12. Back
SEC(05) 1300. Back
HC 34-xxxii (2005-06), para 4 (21 June 2006). Back