Brussels Blogger

The Open Europe blog raises a point that I am sure has been discussed before. While I don’t agree with the tone of the post I think the idea to publish all minutes of COREPER is an interesting one. It is there where member state’s ambassadors to the EU prepare and take decisions. COREPER meetingWhen tomorrow the 27 ambassadors of the EU member states meet in Brussels we will not see a lot of press reports, maybe even none at all. The weekly meetings of COREPER are not public and there are no press conferences.

It’s time to change this. The move from behind-the-door compromises to public confrontation will not be an easy transition, but it is do-able. European citizens need to know what their representatives in Brussels proposed and voted on.

While live streaming of Council meetings has been a topic in recent years, I don’t think that it represents a viable solution for COREPER, where ambassadors still need to feel that they can discuss among them without every single word beeing re-produced by media. But publishing the agenda and minutes – and why not monthly briefings by member states to the press – are certainly something that could improve a lot the visibility of “Brussels” and EU decision making.

An example of the agenda for a COREPER meeting shows that you still need some inside knowledge to understand what exactly will be discussed. But the European Parliament’s legislative tracker and the plenary sessions documents show that a lot can be done to link relevant items instead of simply providing the document reference.

Background information: Rules of procedure of the Council of the European Union

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  1. The post raises an important matter. The Coreper configurations are crucially important, as are some of the main Council committees.

    In general, the whole Council ethos is against meaningful transparency, the paper trail often almost invisible and only the final, political decision communicated.

    If some central banks manage to publish agendas and minutes, it seems that EU matters merit at least that.

    Sadly, I am not at all sure that open legislative sessions of the Council are especially illuminating.

    In the long run, the Council should become the second chamber of the European Parliament, playing by parliamentary rules of openness and transparency.

  2. Although I completely agree with the idea of the EU being more transparent to the EU citizens, we also have to remember the very distinct and unique nature of COREPER negotiations. I have recently performed a detailed analysis and research on the nature of negotiations in COREPER from a more social and cultural side of the problem. There are five of the so-called norms, or I would rather call them ‘aspects’ of COREPER’s organizational culture, : thick trust, mutual responsiveness, diffuse reciprocity, consensus-reflex and a culture of compromise. I won’t discuss and explain them here, but the success of negotiations in COREPER can be largely attributed to these five norms. However and at the same time, these five aspects of the organizational culture of COREPER could be only developed due to the privacy of COREPER officials during the negotiations and the lack of public access or possibility to see what happens behind the closed door. Therefore, more transparent COREPER could negatively influenced the organizational culture of this body.

  3. I share Konrad’s analysis. While there is undoubtedly a case for greater Council transparency, COREPER is a different case.
    I don’t think publication of agendas and minutes would necessarily be harmful to the five aspects mentioned, but would probably lead to more need to play to the potential reading audience back home rather than actually find the deal of mutual European interest.
    Just a thought – how many Member States regularly publish the discussions between their senior civil servants? Or between themselves and senior ambassadors that visit the ministries? This is after all the equivalent level of COREPER discussions, isn’t it?

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