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European Parliament report condemns "informal" negotiations with the Council - validity of the "trilogues" on access to EU documents thrown into question
01 March 2001
A report issued by the three Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament on the "co-decision" process has condemned "informal" negotiations over which there is little or no formal accountability to the parliament.
Their report throws into question the "trilogue" meetings which the parliament has been holding with the Council since January over the new code of access to EU documents. It is precisely the kind of "informal", secretive, negotiations which the report says excludes civil society and undermines the parliament. The report says there where such negotiations are to be entered into a formal EP delegation should be established with "all negotiations.. based on an appropriate mandate", with the lead Committee setting out the form and timetable for reporting back, a procedure for making "the documents arising from the negotiations public" and ensuring that all the committees involved (in this case five) being able to have a say.
The five "trilogue" meetings on the new code of access have manifestly failed to meet these standards.
As far as can be ascertained the EP delegation has never been formally appointed, no mandate has been laid down, no form of reporting or timetable has been set out for reporting back to the committees, no steps have been taken to ensure that all the documents have been made public, and "trilogue" meetings have been held when a number of MEPs could not attend (for example, a meeting in Brussels when the MEPs are in Strasbourg for a plenary session). The 5th "trilogue" meeting is being held today (26 March).
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"This report confirms our worst fears. The "trilogue" meetings between the European Parliament and the Council over the new code of access to documents are part of a pattern to reach "compromises" behind closed doors.
Civil society groups called for an end to secret negotiations at a conference in the parliament last month. They told the representatives of the Council, Commission and European Parliament that they should either scrap all their drafts and go back to the drawing board or go straight to the co-decision process. The parliament has been trying to informally negotiate with the Council for over four months (since 16 November last year) - it should immediately withdraw from the "trilogues" and formally adopt its first reading position at the very next plenary session."
In January the three Vice-Presidents, Renzo Imbeni, James Provan and Ingo Friedrich, responsible for the "co-decision procedure" issued a report which warned of the dangers for the parliament of informal agreements to resolve differences with the Council without proper parliamentary control.
There are two procedures involving the European Parliament's role of new measures put forward by the Council or the European Commission. The first is "consultation" where the parliament has to be consulted and its views may or may not be taken into account. The second is "co-decision" where the parliament, the Council and the Commission all have to agree on a new measure. "Co-decision" applies on most measures put forward by the Commission (except those on immigration and asylum under Title IV TEC which is still under "consultation").
The procedure for "co-decision" is set out in Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Communities (TEC). A proposal is put forward by the Commission and the European Parliament adopts a first reading position (by putting forward amendments to the Commission proposal). The Council (the 15 EU governments) can then either agree with the parliament (in which case the measure can be adopted quickly) or adopts its own "common position". If the latter happens the Commission tells the parliament of its reaction to the Council's common position and the parliament can then agree with the Council or propose further amendments within three months (secon