Laying out his objectives as European Commission President for the next 5 year term, Jean-Claude Juncker has indicated he might be ready to take the Transparency bull by the horns. Outlining his agenda for ‘democratic change’, Mr Juncker has committed himself to enhancing transparency of lobbying around decision-making. As he quite correctly points out, EU citizens “have the right to know with whom Commissioners and Commission staff, Members of the European Parliament or Representatives of the Council meet in the context of the legislative process”.
In making this commitment to transparency, Mr Juncker has positioned himself quite clearly on two key issues:
- Transparency is not optional, it’s a right. Despite TI-EU’s advocacy efforts over the years to increase transparency on the activities of all institutions, the last review of the Transparency Register concluded with the activities of the Council remaining completely outside the scope of the Register. When most laws are hashed out between the EU triumvirate of the Commission, EP and Council, how is it logical to accept transparency only from two components, and yet demand that the process as a whole remains transparent? Rainer Wieland, Vice President of the European Parliament stated just last week that Juncker’s proposals, as far as the Council is concerned, are “meaningless”. From a public perspective, the current rules are like reading the introduction and conclusion of a novel and being asked to write a summary of the whole book; impossible. Thankfully Mr Juncker doesn’t seem to agree that transparency should come with an opt-out, and faced with this appetising menu of ‘meaningless’ and ‘impossible’, he is indicating that he is ready to address Council opacity by demanding that it subscribe to the scope of a mandatory Transparency Register.
- Transparency is not just a list of names. As the new Commission President also rightly underlines, knowing who was met with in the context of the legislative process is a baseline for meaningful transparency. As it stands, the Transparency Register delivers limited insight to the public on exactly what meetings were linked to specific policy changes. The general public have access to a list of organisations and their general lobbying interests but have no way of seeing how many times lobbyists contacted institutions, on which specific piece of legislation they were in contact and whether their interaction was considered as impacting on the process or not. A more dynamic version of the current system is needed to give real effect to the current transparency tools of the EU and Mr Juncker has signalled he is perhaps willing to respond.
While we await the first steps of our incoming Commission President, TI-EU has begun work on developing a solution to address both questions: a legislative footprint template for the EU institutions. By definition, the legislative footprint is a document, or interactive tool, which details the time, person and subject of a legislator’s contact with a stakeholder [read more on TI’s background paper on legislative footprints here]. It charts the life-span of the development of a law and illustrates the channels that fed into creating the final product.
Creating simple links between already existing transparency tools and complementing them with small pieces of information that contextualise them more relevantly would go a long way in aiding public engagement, and ultimately, producing better quality laws. Over the course of the next months, TI-EU will be consulting institutions, lobbyists and other relevant stakeholders on their views on a legislative footprint and will offer the new legislature a practical suggestion as to how to live up to its political promises. Juncker has preached for a ‘new start’ for Europe, we wait to see how fresh it will be.