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Boost for EU transparency, but the Commission has further to go

Posted by Nick Prag at 27 November 2014, 18:55 CET |
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A boost to transparency in the European Union was promised this week, when the European Commission committed to publishing information about its meetings with lobbyists, as well as providing more access to documents relating to the ongoing talks with the United States for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The Commission says this reflects a new approach for the new Commission's next five years, heralded by new president Juncker in his Parliamentary hearings and speeches, of a more open and transparent Commission.

With regard to its meetings, under a common set of rules that applies to Commissioners, their Cabinets, and the Directors-General of the Commission services. the Commission will, from 1 December, publish on its website dates, locations, names of the outside stakeholders that it meets and the topics of discussion of its bilateral meetings.

Regarding the talks with the US, the Commission says it will make publish more EU negotiating texts, provide increased access to TTIP texts for all MEPs, classify less of these as 'restricted', and publish a public list of TTIP documents.

These steps have been welcomed as important and positive steps. But as environmental group Friends of the Earth points out, the Commission is still not making the key documents, the draft consolidated text of the Treaty negotiations, publicly available before they are agreed upon.

For citizens to know what might be being traded away, and for a proper public debate to happen, says Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe, "all negotiation texts and other documents must be published."

It will still be difficult for genuine public debate to take place on the transatlantic trade talks and it leaves open the widely-held suspicion that the TTIP will mainly serve powerful corporate interests at the expense of essential safeguards for democracy and the environment.

On the lobbying procedure also, the moves go some way towards a more open way of doing business at the Commission. But they fall short of providing full transparency. It is right that Commissioners should not meet organisations or people not in the Transparency Register. But only a mandatory lobby register will allow citizens to see who is spending what, on which issues, in order to influence EU policy-making.

The results of the recent European elections show that there is an extra mile to go if the Commission wants to regain public trust in Europe, allay general public suspicion of the EU institutions and engage the public more in what is being done at European level and why.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.