Publish papers from secretive talks on EU law, Ombudsman tells institutions

Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman. [European Parliament/Flickr]

Secretive three-way talks between EU institutions on draft law must be made more transparent, the European Ombudsman today (14 July) said after an investigation into the negotiations known as “trialogues”.

Trialogues are informal talks between the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and European Commission to reach agreement on EU legislation.

Before a bill can become EU law, an identical text must be agreed by MEPs and national diplomats. The Commission sits in on the behind-closed door talks – which have been criticised for their opacity and potential vulnerability to lobbying – to help broker a deal.

“It is difficult to find out when trialogues are taking place, what is being discussed and by whom without a great deal of time and effort,” Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said.

More than 1,500 trialogues took place in the last legislature, with 85% of the bills being agreed at first reading. The legislative procedures allow for up to three readings by the Parliament and Council but the increased use of trialogues meant deals were struck without public debate.

O’Reilly called for documents tracking the main stages of the trialogues to be published as soon as possible after the talks end.

Papers explaining the positions of the Parliament and Council, agendas, and the names of the decision-makers should be made public, she said. A single online database needed to be set up to make it easy for the public to find the documents.

O’Reilly said, “Making this information available should enable citizens to hold their representatives.”

In a possible reference to Brexit, she added, “The conclusion of my inquiry comes at a period of marked uncertainty for the EU. This uncertainty requires us all to reflect on how we can better engage with citizens throughout the Union.”


The recommendations were made after a public consultation, which favoured more transparency while allowing space for private negotiation.

O’Reilly said the recommendations satisfied both those criteria. The EU institutions must respond by 15 December. At the Commission’s midday briefing, the executive said it would respond by the deadline.

The trialogues investigation was own-initiative, as EURACTIV exclusively revealed In April 2015.

Secretive 'trialogue' talks to agree EU law face investigation

EXCLUSIVE / Three-way talks between the major European institutions to broker deals on EU law face being investigated over their lack of transparency by the bloc’s maladministration watchdog.

After an investigation, the Ombudsman issues recommendations to the institution concerned in the interests of reaching a “friendly solution”.

If the institution takes no notice of the probe, O’ Reilly can close the investigation with a damning report.

EU institutions are less transparent than many member states

Providing access to legislative documents should be standard practice for a well-functioning democracy, but the European Union is less transparent than many of its member states, argue Daniel Freund and Alex Johnson.

Trialogues: What goes on behind closed doors?

As a young institution, it is important that the European Parliament acts swiftly to make trialogue talks more democratic before they become ingrained as a tradition, argues Carl Dolan.

The European Ombudsman investigates maladministration in the European institutions, acting at her own initiative or after a complaint.

If you are a citizen of a member state of the EU or reside in a member state, you can make a complaint to the European Ombudsman. Businesses, associations or other bodies with a registered office in the Union may also complain to the Ombudsman.

Trialogues happen after the Parliament and the Council agree their respective positions on a pending piece of legislation. The series of negotiations, which the Commission sits in on, work towards agreeing a final text. Both Parliament and Council must agree an identical text before it becomes law.

15 December: Deadline for institutions to respond to Ombudsman

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