The European Parliament has urged the Union’s institutions to improve the public’s access to EU documents, specifically calling upon the Council to make details of its debates public.
MEPs, who were voting on a report drafted by Italian MEP Marco Cappato (ALDE) yesterday (14 January), also called on the Parliament to publish more detailed information about their activities.
“Accessing information relating to the EU institutions still remains an obstacle-strewn path for ordinary citizens, due to the lack of an effective citizen-oriented inter-institutional policy of transparency and communication,” reads Cappato’s report, which was approved by 355 votes in favour to 195 against (amid 18 abstentions).
Parliament ‘must lead on transparency’
The report argues that “the Parliament should be at the forefront of publicity, transparency and openness in the EU,” calling on it to launch an “extraordinary action plan” ahead of elections to the assembly in June 2009, putting more information online about MEPs’ participation in parliamentary work, as well as on their allowances and expenses.
Parliamentary assistants’ expenses became an issue last March after Dutch Green MEP Paul van Buitenen made public a confidential committee summary giving details of numerous payment abuses (EURACTIV 07/03/08). MEPs have since passed legislation to normalise the employment conditions of their Brussels-based assistants by developing a common set of rules (EURACTIV 17/12/08).
Improving access ‘may not be enough’
To complement this, by adopting Cappato’s report, the Parliament pledged to establish “a public online database providing easy access to MEPs’ activities and financial records”.
But Cappato himself warned that “more access to documents may not be enough”. Stressing the difference between “passive” and “active” transparency, he said although information spread throughout the pages of the EU assembly’s website is “in theory public,” it is often difficult to find in practice.
Towards a single EU portal?
Indeed, the report calls upon all the European institutions to improve the “user-friendliness” and “interconnection” of their websites by creating a “single EU portal to access all EU documents [and] procedures”. It urges the Parliament to introduce live web-streaming of parliamentary committee meetings, as it does already for plenary sessions.
Specifically, the adopted report calls upon the Parliament to make the following information available on its website:
- Details of “MEPs’ activities, participation in and attendance at parliamentary work, in absolute, relative and percentage terms,” accessible via clear search criteria.
- Details of the Parliament’s activities in plenary, committee, delegations and internal bodies, particularly by including references and links to all relevant documents.
- Details of MEPs’ allowances and spending, and declarations of financial interest, in all official EU languages.
Council urged to open up too
MEPs also urged the Council to make public details of sessions that deal with legislative dossiers, bringing an end to the practice of holding secretive meetings shielded from the eyes of the public. Moreover, the report calls on the institution to disclose the identity of national delegations in its working and expert groups.
At present, “all non-sensitive documents […] which are to serve as a basis for deliberations, could influence the decision-making process or reflect the progress made on a given subject are automatically listed” in a public register of Council documents in operation since 1999, according to a statement on the institution’s website.
But the Parliament’s report laments that the Council’s complex referencing system “makes it difficult to associate a document with a procedure, while accusing the institutions of “either downgrading documents to ‘room documents’ that are not registered, or treating them as ‘diplomatic’ […], nullifying citizens’ right of access”.
Finally, MEPs want to establish a European Year of Transparency, and called for a “European transparency campaign” to be promoted ahead of the European elections.