October 14, 2014

EU Parliament promises to better register its decisions

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In 2011 the FFII discovered that some European Parliament decisions regarding the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were not recorded in any known document. A hidden class of documents (“coordinators’ minutes”) seemed to exist, but the Parliament denied the existence. The FFII filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman.

The ombudsman found a systemic failure regarding the listing of documents in the Parliament’s registry of documents. In response, the Parliament took measures to better comply with EU law. However, the Parliament’s measures are limited. It did not take measures to ascertain all its documents are properly registered. Questions remain, as we will see below.

The complaint

The European Parliament has committees, which usually meet in public and produce committee minutes. Committees have coordinators to prepare the meetings. The coordinators meet behind closed doors and can take certain decisions. The FFII requested minutes of coordinators’ meetings. The Parliament denied the existence of these minutes. But if that was correct, then certain decisions were not recorded. The FFII insisted. In cases the FFII could provide proof of the existence of these minutes the Parliament released them, but it maintained that other coordinators’ minutes did not exist.

On 1 February 2012 I filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman against the European Parliament for systematically lying about the existence of documents.

The Ombudsman reformulated my complaint to: “Parliament fails to register all existing Parliament documents in its electronic Register of documents.” The ombudsman formulated as claim: “Parliament should register all existing Parliament documents in its electronic Register of documents, in particular the minutes of the meetings of Parliament Committee Coordinators.”

During the process another hidden document surfaced.

Draft decision

In its draft decision the ombudsman found a “systemic failure by Parliament to mention, in the public register of documents, the existence of a whole series of documents that relate to the work of MEPs”, found the failure to amount to an instance of maladministration, and recommended: “When minutes of meetings of Committee Coordinators are drawn up, Parliament should include the minutes in its public register of documents and make them, in principle, directly accessible, in accordance with Article 12 of Regulation 1049/2001” (Ombudsman, paragraphs 16-18).

Note the draft decision was more limited than the original claim. As we saw above the claim stated “Parliament should register all existing Parliament documents”, the draft decision only refers to coordinators’ minutes.

Parliament answer

The Parliament stated that the recommendations or decisions adopted by the coordinators will be included in the public committee minutes.

The decision

Decision of the European Ombudsman closing the inquiry into complaint 262/2012/OV against the European Parliament:

“Parliament has taken appropriate measures to implement the Ombudsman’s draft recommendation.”

Further remark

The ombudsman added a further remark:

“In the light of Parliament’s positive reply to the draft recommendation, the Ombudsman trusts that, for the sake of consistency with its new policy adopted after the draft recommendation, Parliament will include in its public register existing minutes of meetings of Committee Coordinators adopted during the 2009-2014 parliamentary term.”

Open questions

The Parliament declared that “in principle the committee secretariats will not prepare any separate minutes of coordinators’ meetings”. What will happen if they act contrary to the principle, if they do prepare separate minutes? Will the document(s) be recorded in the register of documents?

The Legal Affairs committee made a coordinators’ workspace, accessible only to the coordinators, political advisors working with the committee on Legal Affairs and the staff of the secretariat. Are the documents in this workspace recorded in the register of documents? Are coordinators’ notes recorded in the register, or is this a hidden class of documents?

How many committees have a coordinators’ workspace? And are there any further “walled gardens” out of sight of the registry?

Update: the 2011 Legal Affairs committee coordinators’ minutes are now available at the FFII website.