Making EU law-making more accessible to the public

It is currently difficult for the public to follow how EU laws are made. This is because the Council - where Member States are represented - remains relatively inaccessible. Documents are difficult to get hold of and Member States’ positions on a given law are not public. The EO opened an own-initiative inquiry into Council legislative transparency and has called for a series of transparency steps to be taken.

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There are two co-legislators in the EU - the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. While it is easy to follow how a draft law progresses through the various committees in Parliament until the final vote in plenary, the same cannot be said of the Council, where Member States are represented.

Once a draft law is proposed by the European Commission, it essentially disappears from public view as it makes its way through various Council working groups before being agreed at the political level.

The lack of transparency means that citizens do not know what their government’s position is on a given draft law. The EO’s inquiry and subsequent proposals for change are meant to shed light on the legislative process so citizens can better hold their governments to account.

Among the Ombudsman’s recommendations are that the Council systematically record Member State positions both in its preparatory meetings and in COREPER (ambassador) meetings; and that it draw up clear criteria for the classification of Council documents as the current practice severely limits their timely accessibility.

The Ombudsman also proposed that the Council set up a dedicated webpage for each legislative proposal and that it make its public register of documents more user-friendly.

Recording Member States’ positions on a draft law will also help bring the ‘blame Brussels’ culture to an end as it will be clear how governments shaped a given law or policy. The general public will be the main beneficiary of a more transparent legislative process, while EU democracy as a whole will be strengthened.

The ultimate aim is to change the culture in the Council so that Member States accept that increased public oversight on how EU laws evolve is good for the political and democratic esprit of the European Union.

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