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Decision of the European Ombudsman setting out proposals following her strategic inquiry OI/8/2015/JAS concerning the transparency of Trilogues

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  • Case: OI/8/2015/JAS
    Opened on 26 May 2015 - Decision on 12 Jul 2016
  • Institution(s) concerned: Council of the European Union,European Parliament,European Commission
  • Field(s) of law: People's Europe
  • Types of maladministration alleged – (i) breach of, or (ii) breach of duties relating to: Requests for public access to documents [Article 23 ECGAB]
  • Subject matter(s): Institutional and policy matters

This strategic inquiry concerns the transparency of an important informal part of the EU legislative process, namely, the transparency of “Trilogues”.

The EU’s two legislative bodies, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, enact legislation following a proposal by the European Commission. During this process, both co-legislators, assisted by the Commission, often negotiate in so-called Trilogues, which are informal meetings between representatives of the three institutions involved. During a Trilogue, Parliament and Council try to agree a common text, based on their initial positions, which is then voted on according to the formal legislative procedure. Trilogues have proven to be very effective at reaching such agreements, and most legislation is now adopted this way.

The European Union is a representative democracy, where citizens have the right to hold their representatives accountable for the political choices made on their behalf. Citizens also have the right to participate in the EU’s democratic process. The transparency of Trilogues is a key element in ensuring that these rights are made effective and in legitimising the laws made by the EU. The EU Court of Justice has stated that the ability of EU citizens to find out the considerations that underpin legislative action is a precondition for the effective exercise of their democratic rights.

While the EU legislative process in general is quite transparent, including in comparison to many Member States, this part of the process has raised concerns about the balance between the efficiency of the Trilogue process and its transparency.

Against this background, the European Ombudsman opened a strategic inquiry. She examined which information and documents should be made proactively available to the public, and at what point in time, so that citizens can make use of their rights.

Trilogue transparency is an essential element of EU law-making legitimacy. Citizens must be in a position to scrutinise the performance of their representatives during this key part of the legislative process. Citizens also require information on the topics under discussion during Trilogues to be able to participate effectively in the legislative process.

The Ombudsman welcomes the progress so far on improving the transparency of Trilogues; however she proposes that the three institutions make the following documentation and information publicly available: Trilogue dates, initial positions of the three institutions, general Trilogue agendas, “four-column” documents, final compromise texts, Trilogue notes that have been made public, lists of the political decision makers involved and as far as possible a list of other documents tabled during the negotiations. All of these should be made available on an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand joint database. While some documents could be made available while Trilogue negotiations are ongoing, the institutions might consider it necessary in the public interest to provide proactive public access to certain types of documents only after negotiations have ended.

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