Council's website: a symbol for all that's wrong with the EU?

Council of the European UnionImage via Wikipedia

Some of us have had a particular bugbear about the Council of Minister’s lack of transparency for some time now. We’ve even taken the time to write irate letters to the FT on the subject (much to the shock of colleagues it must be admitted).

Ok, so Council has opened up to hold “public deliberations” (mostly on topics where agreement has already been reached), but the single most annoying thing about the Council (other than the fact that it continues to believe that it is an intergovernmental institution, rather than just one part of a bicameral legislature) is its website. Frankly, the way it is designed to obfuscate and confuse. It is a symbol for all that is wrong in the institution as a whole.

As colleagues have pointed out, trying to find a document – any document – that relates to Council discussions on a particular legislative text is annoyingly hard (sometimes impossible). The only way to do it is a search through the document registry by COD number, keyword or date or browse a long list of latest documents and hope you strike gold. It’s annoying for us and this is what we do for a living – imagine you’re an interested citizen seeking to understand the way Council deals with legislation (long shot, I know).

Of course once you find a relevant document, it doesn’t mean that you can access it online. No, it’s most likely restricted and you have to ask for permission to see it. A few weeks later you’ll get a reply, by which stage if you are anything like we are you will have found another way to get sight of it or at the very least understand the contents of it. We never quite understood the rationale here. Surely all documents should be available unless public authorities can prove them to be sensitive for some reason. The burden being on the public institutions to prove sensitivity rather than the citizen to prove that he/she should have access to them. Frankly, sometimes I request restricted documents because as a citizen I think it my right and duty to keep the Council on its toes.

We are spurred to write this particular rant as while perusing the Council’s latest documents list, we found this document – a handy breakdown of the Working Parties that exist under each Council formation. It occured to us that if Council can produce this, they can also produce a website whereby for each Council formation you can click on each working group, see the agendas of the meetings and all the documents under discussion. Almost like the Council meetings were plenary sessions and the Working Parties committees…My god, the Council website could even be like the Parliament site before the EP decided to take a leaf out of the Council’s book.

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July 14, 2009 | 6:59 PM

I completely agree with you regarding the Council website...But you could also extend your critics to the Commission's site. An overall scrutiny over the whole spectrum of EU institutions web strategy would be highly welcome. A sound proposal for the Swedish Presidency.

Julien Frisch
August 02, 2008 | 4:42 PM

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Andrew Greenway
July 10, 2008 | 7:24 PM

Hear hear. It's about time a whiff of genuine transparency started blowing round the corridors of Brussels.

July 10, 2008 | 3:40 PM

Well, it got worse, because today you cannot even access the search page at all. Perhaps it's just a problem of my browser or could it be that after reading this post everyone tried to check out the Council search page causing a black out??? Third option: someone at the Council took offence and decided to shut it down. Anyway, I visited the infamous site to check if by any chance (I know, quite silly really), they had posted the conclusion of last week informal Environment and Energy Council but apart from a mere press release from the French Presidency, no luck. As if the informal Council meetings are another way to reduce even further the transparency of the Ministerial gatherings...

July 10, 2008 | 12:55 PM

Very very true. Thanks for this article. It is really sad to see that despite the other institutions making progress with their web presence the Council still operates a web site that looks like produced at the end of the nineties and that never changed since then. Maybe we need some more aggressive campaigning, like publishing the name of the units and head of units responsible, investigating when the "access to documents" texts have been discussed the last time and which country opposed further transparency. Maybe "Corporate Europe Observatory" has some more info about this and can help.