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Decision in strategic inquiry OI/4/2020/TE on the transparency of decision making by the Council of the EU during the COVID-19 crisis

Wednesday | 24 March 2021

The Ombudsman opened a ‘strategic inquiry’ on her own initiative to look into the transparency of decision making by the Council of the EU during the COVID-19 crisis. The Treaties require the EU institutions, including the Council, to operate openly. In particular, they require the Council to meet in public when considering and voting on draft legislative acts.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of restrictions on travel and gatherings, the Council had to adapt its operating and decision-making procedures to ensure institutional continuity. To this end, the Council decided to derogate temporarily from its Rules of Procedure. In addition to organising virtual meetings and other changes, the Council currently takes most decisions by ‘written procedure’.

The Ombudsman assessed how, in the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis, the Council ensured it complied with its obligations to operate openly.

The Ombudsman found that national ministers meet by videoconference to discuss the legislative and non-legislative files that are subsequently adopted by written procedure. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, these remote meetings were not held in public, and very little information about them was made public. This was regrettable. As of July 2020, however, the Council changed its practices. It began web streaming certain remote meetings of ministers, and made public relevant documentation. The Ombudsman welcomes this important change. She suggests that the Council make public documentation regarding all ministerial videoconferences that took place at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, between March and June 2020.

The Ombudsman also found that, at the outset of her inquiry, there was no information publicly available on how, in the absence of in-person meetings, the Council’s preparatory bodies continued their discussions on legislative and non-legislative files. As the COVID-19 crisis continued, the Council took steps to make these remote meetings of national civil servants more transparent, notably by publishing agendas ahead of such meetings. The Ombudsman welcomes the steps taken. She considers, however, that more could be done and is making three further suggestions for improvement to that effect.

Decision in case 1094/2020/DL on how the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations (APPF) ensures transparency of information about European political parties and foundations

Monday | 25 January 2021

The case concerned how the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations (APPF) complies with its transparency requirements and - in particular - its disclosure and publication obligations. The complainant considered that the APPF failed to publish information concerning European political parties and foundations in a complete, up to date and user-friendly manner. 

In the course of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, the APPF committed to making changes to address some of the issues raised in the complaint, such as including links to the relevant information on the European Parliament’s website, inserting sections on its website to address missing information and drawing up a template to obtain information from European political parties in a harmonised manner. The Ombudsman thus decided to close the case, as no further inquiries were justified.

However, the Ombudsman considered that the APPF could make additional improvements to its website to ensure that the information provided is clear, complete, extractable and comparable. She therefore made three suggestions for improvement and has asked the APPF to report back within six months.