European Union governments should not hide their debates behind a wall of secrecy but openly declare their positions on proposed EU laws, the bloc’s independent civic rights supervisor said in a report on Tuesday.
“It’s almost impossible for citizens to follow the legislative discussions in the Council between national government representatives. This ‘behind-closed-doors’ approach risks alienating citizens and feeding negative sentiment,” said European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.
The Council of the European Union, grouping diplomats and political representatives of the 28 member states, debates and passes laws alongside the directly elected European Parliament.
Unlike most legislatures, however, it conducts business largely out of sight of the public, more in the secretive manner of intergovernmental diplomacy. It is often very unclear which governments are arguing or voting for which outcomes.
O’Reilly said this had fostered a “blame Brussels” culture, in which governments could deny their own responsibility for EU decisions they supported in Council but which proved unpopular.
With Britain on its way out of the Union and hostility to the EU significant in many other countries, EU leaders are keen to bolster their democratic credentials. But governments remain wary of opening up their disputes to public scrutiny.
O’Reilly, an Irish former journalist, recommended that the Council “systematically record” which member states took positions on legislative proposals and tighten the scope of rules that restrict public circulation of Council documents.
She asked it to respond in detail in three months.