European Movement reaction to the European Commission’s Transparency Register proposal
Today, the European Commission presented its proposal for a mandatory Transparency Register. However, while it marks a step in the right direction on transparency in European Union decision-making – it is mandatory, covers all three institutions, and is much clearer on the activities and bodies covered by the agreement – it falls short on some key elements:
Balanced coverage of all institutions
Whereas we welcome the fact that all three institutions are covered by the proposed register and the possibility for voluntary involvement of other EU bodies, the proposed coverage of decision-makers on the side of the institutions falls short. In particular the proposed coverage of the Council, limited to the Ambassadors and deputies of current and forthcoming presidencies as well as high-level Council officials, looks extremely meagre in comparison to the proposal for the Parliament, which includes all Members of Parliament. On the side of the Commission, the proposal also remains limited to only the highest-level officials.
Rightfully, the proposed Register exempts the activity of citizens in their personal capacity from the areas covered by the register. However, the rules and regulations around the Register should not interfere with the EU’s more general commitment to communicate with citizens. We therefore propose that all email lists and distribution of information should be open to individual citizens, given that the current one-sided communication from the EU provides no justifiable reason for a restriction. Furthermore, there is no mention of how to ease citizens’ access to information about the registered organisations and their meetings with EU officials.
Compliance and enforcement
The proposed framework to monitor and enforce compliance with the register lacks the key provisions to tackle compliance problems. The ‘systemic ex-ante checks’ that are allegedly part of the proposal are nothing more than monitoring of the content, without specific provisions for how these checks will be carried out. The proposed measures in case of a violation of the Code of Conduct, likewise, lack a list or table with types of non-compliance (and the related measure), making the decision completely dependent on the Secretariat. Furthermore, nothing is foreseen in terms of publicising violations of the register and imposed measures.
The proposed Transparency Register includes some obvious pitfalls that could easily make it an impact-less instrument. In the ensuing negotiations between the three institutions, they have the opportunity to stand by the good proposals made, improve those that are lacking real teeth, and implement a Transparency Register that strongly improves accountable decision making on the EU level. At the same time, an updated Transparency Register can only make an impact if it is accompanied by other actions with regard to transparency, integrity and equal access. This is only the beginning.