Britse europarlementariërs willen tv-uitzendingen van geheime vergaderingen Raad
Auteur: | By Andrew Rettman
EUOBSERVER / STRASBOURG - An influential group of British MEPs is urging the UK presidency to throw open member states' EU law-making debates to public scrutiny.
The members want UK foreign minister Jack Straw to put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting of the general affairs council (GAC) in Luxembourg on 3 October.
The move would simply require member states' assent to change the GAC's rules of procedure, but would in effect revive a key transparency clause of the failed EU constitution.
The leader of the British liberal MEPs, Chris Davies, spearheded the campaign, bringing together the heads of the British Conservative, Labour, Green and eurosceptic factions in a rare European Parliament alliance.
"This would ensure that our own House of Commons could better call its ministers to account over UK policy in Europe", he said.
Labour MEP leader Gary Titley added that the EU is the only legislature in the world, save North Korea, that still makes laws in secret.
"Although this is a fairly simple demand, it could create a revolution in the way the council behaves", he indicated, explaining that it might curb the "it wasn't me guv'nor" culture of post-council debriefings where ministers typically shirk responsibility for unpopular EU decisions.
EU wrangles on TV
Green deputy head Jean Lambert said that European citizens might warm toward the EU if they could understand the national interests at play and the arguments behind the bloc's decisions.
The British MEPs envisage that debates might be broadcast on a TV channel on the model of Westminster coverage in the UK, or via webcasts if no commercial station could be persuaded to take the task on.
All agreed that publishing the minutes of the debates would not be adequate, as "the minutes can be fixed", in the words of Conservative MEP head Timothy Kirkhope.
Some former presidencies, such as the Dutch and Danish delegations, have already given limited access to public and press, but the new rules would set minimum standards for all.
Will it ever happen?
The MEPs have played their card at an opportune time, with the political climate after the negative referendums in France and the Netherlands favouring moves to boost the EU's public profile.
UK prime minister Tony Blair started the EU presidency in June by calling on politicians to "reconnect with the people of Europe".
On top of this, all 25 member states signed up to the constitution text calling for the same reform, with Mr Davies calling on Mr Straw to name and shame any member states who backslide on the promise now.
The European Commission has also backed the campaign, with communications spokesman Mikolaj Dogielewicz telling EUobserver that "the commission has for a long time argued for transparency in the council, when it meets to legislate".
But eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farrage pointed out that lifting the veil could expose uncomfortable truths about the EU, such as the fact that much legislation is made without elected ministers' assent via committees of civil servants.
Some Brussels insiders quipped that the real horse-trading side of EU law-making would simply be conducted in ever-longer informal breakfasts and lunches instead.
"No one will be fully open", one EU diplomat said.
The British campaign is not calling for member states' political debates to be in public, an issue which the constitution also left in peace.