Transparency of decision-making in the Council of the European Union Contents


Transparency principles

1.We note the range of views on the status of the Council as a legislative body, or as an executive Cabinet, or as a vehicle for multinational negotiations. In addition we note there are a range of views on the desirability or efficacy of transparency. It is nevertheless the case that, since 2009, there has been a change in the culture under which these negotiations take place, and there have been improvements in the way information about Council decisions has been made public. The European Union and its Member States have already committed in a variety of ways and at different times to the principle of transparency, although such transparency may not be delivered in practice. (Paragraph 25)

Transparency in practice

2.It is clear from our evidence that there are real and significant tensions between the Council’s role as a forum in which Ministers from the Member States meet to decide or coordinate policies (a role which can be seen as analogous to that of the Cabinet) and its role in deliberating on, and adopting, legislative acts and laws in which it is conducting a role which is parliamentary in nature. It is also clear that the need to negotiate the interests of twenty–eight different Member States raises issues about transparency which are fundamental to the UK’s national interest and that there should be more transparency as regards the information provided by the Council and its working groups. (Paragraph 49)

3.We share some of the concerns expressed to us about legislative acts ultimately adopted by consensus, which have not been debated in public by Ministers in the Council or where differences in individual Member States’ positions have not been recorded (for example, through the use of minute statements). In such cases, it is difficult to assess which amendments to the original Commission proposal have been ‘won’ in the national interest or ‘lost’. More transparency, particularly at the level of the preparatory bodies, might help to lift the lid on decision-making in the Council and reveal the extent to which legislation is simply nodded through by Ministers after negotiation by officials. There is scope for UK Ministers to provide Parliament with more information about, and explanation of, the actions they have taken on the UK’s behalf during this process. (Paragraph 50)

4.If properly implemented, the high level commitment to transparency set out in the new Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making will be an opportunity to address the following issues:

5.For our part, we will monitor in the course of our regular scrutiny how well existing requirements are being met. Given the importance of the impact of EU legislation on citizens, we urge the Government to ensure the application of the transparency requirements to every ordinary legislative act. (Paragraph 52)

Role of Government and Parliament

6.Regardless of any progress made by the Council in improving the transparency, accountability and efficiency of EU legislative processes, we consider that the Government could and should take action itself to make more information available to Parliament and to the public. At the European Union level, it could take the lead in making public statements of the reason for its vote more frequently.(Paragraph 62)

7.We accept that Parliament could take a lead in increasing the transparency of negotiations and decisions taken by the Council. That will only succeed if the Government matches its own commitments to support the scrutiny system by providing complete and timely information and scheduling debates when they are still timely. (Paragraph 63)

8.Transparency is not simply a matter of making information available, but of ensuring it is usable. In taking forward our 2013 Scrutiny Reform Report recommendations, we will reflect further on improvements that we might make to our own procedures and to the usability of the information we make available. (Paragraph 64)

9.In particular, we commend for further careful consideration the changes suggested by our witnesses and detailed in Paragraph 60. (Paragraph 65)

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24 May 2016