Transparency International Scores EU Transparency

25 April 2014

An adequate legal foundation for transparency exists in the European Union, but it is undercut in ways that foster corruption risks, according to a new 248-page report by Transparency International.

The EU Integrity System report issued April 24 evaluates 10 EU institutions and bodies regarding transparency, accountability, independence, integrity and other factors.

A solid legal foundation, TI’s EU Office, reports, “is often undermined by poor practice, lack of political leadership, failure to allocate sufficient staff and funding, and unclarity about to whom the rules apply.”

“The most urgent of these include opacity in EU law-making and in EU lobbying, poorly managed conflicts of interest, weak protection for EU whistle-blowers, and weak sanctions for corrupt companies,” the report concludes.

Regarding transparency, the report finds some things to praise regarding the release of documents but also points to “blind spots in the process.”

The report says:

These include so-called ‘trilogue’ and conciliation discussions where EU laws are negotiated behind closed doors between the Council, Parliament and Commission. The work of the Council below the ministerial level, and of Commission expert and member state committees remain difficult or impossible to trace despite their direct and often definitive influence on legislation. European Council meetings and EU Court deliberations also remain hidden from the public.

Mandatory Document Registry Urged

The lack of a mandatory register of lobbyists at the EU-level “further undermines the assurance that EU decision-making is adequately protected from the influence of vested interests or abuse,” according to the report.

Spotty use of public document registers is stressed in the report, which contains institution-by-institution chapters with considerable detail.

The report says only the European Commission, Parliament, the European Ombudsman, and the Council and European Council jointly, have public document registers in place. “Moreover, the quality of these registers varies greatly, undermining accessibility and usability. Improvements, for example, are needed in how well users can search within these registers, and in the documents they contain.”

Documents released in response to public requests for access are not immediately or systematically included on public registers, according to the report, which calls for more robust registry use.

“Meanwhile, a recent change to rules regarding the disclosure of internal EP administrative documents represents a retrograde step in transparency. Question marks also remain on the extent to which the EP is publicly registering all the documents it holds, and whether the Council is listing faithfully in its register the existence of all sensitive/confidential documents that it holds.

Four Recommendations

One recommendation says that the European Parliament, Commission and Council “should record and disclose all input received from lobbyists/interest representatives for draft policies, laws and amendments.”

The institutions also should make the EU Transparency Register mandatory – and extend its application to the Council and member state permanent representations – supported by incentives to encourage registration, disincentives for non-registration, and genuinely dissuasive.

All documents from each step in the process of drafting legislation should be published by these bodies, the report also says. “This should include negotiations between the institutions (e.g. ‘trilogues’), Commission committees and expert groups, and all levels of the Council. Systematic and timely public reporting from these steps should be mandatory.”

Another recommendation says that all EU institutions and bodies should proactively publish documents relating to their decision-making. “The documents should be as accessible as possible, through the introduction of online public document registers. Where such registers already exist, state of the art search functions should be used to improve quality and usability.”

 

 

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