Literature often puts the EU on the same footing as North Korea and Cuba with respect to policy-making behind closed doors, R. Laming notes. To put an end to this reputation, EU politicians have renewed their efforts to make Council legislative procedures more public.
Carrying out a case-study on the reform of the EU sugar regime (June 2005 - February 2006), the author points out the "striking and illuminating contrast" between the EP and Council approaches of a same Commission's proposal.
In the Parliament, he says "meetings were held in public, documents were available for public inspection, amendments were clearly identified and required explicit support from a named source, votes were recorded and decisions reached were clear and unambiguous." By contrast, in the Council, "meetings were held in private, documents were not published formally, amendments were introduced into the text with neither proposes nor reasons being specified, there was no procedure for voting at the very final stage, and decisions were not always clear."
Against this backdrop, R. Laming generally welcomes the new rules on access to the Council's work, agreed in December 2005. However, he estimates that concepts such as "final deliberations," "votes," or what he sees as an artificial distinction between "technical" and "political" meetings, should not determine occasions where Council meetings should be opened up to the public.
Indeed, things are not so clear-cut in the Council's way of working, he emphasises. Instead, he recommends a difference of treatment between "meetings at which amendments can be made to proposed texts (to become public) and those where they cannot (not necessarily public)." That way, Member of the Council could be held accountable for their actions, thus removing "the veil of Council secrecy and consensus, a veil which sometimes hides national responsibilities," the author argues.
On a practical level, he stresses that such changes would not need any amendment to the EC Treaty, but only a modification of the Council Rules of Procedures. He thinks such an objective should be attainable if national politicians really wanted a "more democratic and accountable Union," that reconnects with its citizens, to emerge.