The European Parliament agreed yesterday (26 February) to extend the roll call system to votes cast in committees, a move civil society organisations say will increase the transparency of MEPs' work.
Starting at the next European Parliament's Strasbourg session on 10 March, MEPs individual voting records will be extended to votes on non-binding resolutions in plenary, as well as final votes on resolutions and on legislation in the parliament's committees.
The extension of these records is due to a change in the European Parliament's internal rules, which was passed on Wednesday by its members in Strasbourg with a total of 617 votes in favour, 23 against and 12 abstentions.
Civil society organisations called it "an important step forward" for the transparency of the Parliament's decision making.
Even though bill has to pass a plenary vote for final approval, they are shaped in the parliament's committees, where MEPs adopt proposals first. Such committee members often advise their fellow group members on how to vote in the plenary. Most committee decisions are adopted by a show of hands, unless a quarter of the committee's members request a vote by roll call.
The amended rules adopted by the Parliament, now state that roll call is required in the case of a single and/or final vote on a report (and a quarter of the members can still request roll call votes in all other cases).
Details of the MEPs individual voting records have been accessible for some time – on the website of transparency organisation VoteWatch, amongst others – but were largely restricted to the votes in plenary.
The voting records have also become a powerful tool for civil society organisations to boost transparency and inform the European public of how their representatives vote.
A recent example of this is MyVote2014, a voting simulator released in September, which matches the voting preference of EU citizens to the track record of MEPs across Europe. The simulator then shows users the MEP who most closely matches their preferences, providing a recommendation of sorts for who to vote for in the EU elections, next May.
?In a press release, Doru Frantescu, policy director of VoteWatch Europe, said: "This is an important step forward for transparency and debate in the EU law-making process. Thanks to the introduction of systematic roll call voting in committees, we will be able to give citizens a much more complete picture of what goes on inside the European Parliament during the next parliamentary term".
Reacting to the news to EurActiv, Ronny Patz, communications & policy officer at Transparency International's EU office, says: “We welcome today’s move to change the rules of procedure of the European Parliament to make votes more transparent, in particular at a crucial stage of parliamentary decision making when it comes to final legislative votes in committees.”
“While this is a first step towards more transparency in EU law-making, it will not resolve the opacity of trilogue negotiations in which most EU laws are decided today, mostly behind closed doors. The Parliament, Council and Commission should also agree on measures to increase this part of the legislative processes."
Andrew Duff, the liberal ALDE group’s constitutional spokesman, said before the final vote: "More and more critical votes on draft laws are taken at committee stage. While all votes in committee are open to the press and public, it is very difficult for the voting behaviour of every individual MEP to be monitored. This reform … will make it clear which MEP supports, opposes or abstains on a draft law at all stages of the law-making process.”
“The rather lengthy distance between the European Parliament and the citizen should not be shrouded in opacity. No respectable MEP needs to hide how he or she votes,” he added.
Roll call votes are votes cast by MEPs that are officially registered in a database. The roll call system is stipulated in the European Parliament's internal Rules of Procedure, Rule 167 and was previously limited to plenary votes as well as committee votes, on the request of a threshold number of MEPs.
The votes are accessible to the public through websites such as VoteWatch.eu. The European Parliament's legislative documents and procedures are also available online via the websites ParlTrack and the EP's Legislative Observatory.
Extending the voting records fits into an ongoing process of opening up the EU institutions' work to the public, for the sake of transparency and accountability. Flagship initiatives in this perspective are the European Transparency Initiative (ETI), which includes the Transparency Register of registered lobbyists in Brussels and Europe.
- 10 March: European Parliament plenary session's first day, in which the extension of roll call voting will enter into force.