EU pledges Brexit transparency

By on 04/06/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Emily O'Reilly, the european ombudsman (Image courtesy: Katarzyna Czerwinska).

The European Commission has agreed to ensure a “maximum level of transparency” in the negotiations over Brexit, following calls from the EU’s public administration watchdog for citizens to be kept fully informed.

Negotiating documents including agendas, EU position papers, EU text proposals and “non-papers” will be released to the public, the EC said in a statement on 22 May.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly wrote to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in February, calling on him “to adopt a proactive approach from the outset” to transparency in Brexit negotiations and to “give citizens access to relevant information and documents at the appropriate time and without the need to ask for them”.

She called for the commission to set out the types of information and documents it intends to publish; a timeline for publication; and its plans for securing and structuring input from stakeholders to inform its negotiating position.

O’Reilly also said she will be inviting national and regional members of the European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO) to send questions, complaints and concerns from EU citizens living outside their country of origin to her office to obtain expert replies on EU law and practice from EU institutions.

These are expected to come both from UK citizens who have settled in other member states, and citizens of other member states living in the UK – where there are five ombudsman members of the ENO.

In his reply on 28 April, Juncker pledged that the commission’s transparency policy for the negotiations will be “unique and unprecedented”, and said the timeline and the governance structure of the talks will be explained to stakeholders “as soon as they start”.

All meetings with chief negotiator Michel Barnier are published online, and the commission’s policy of only accepting meeting invitations with interest groups listed on the EU’s Transparency Register will apply to all members of his team, Juncker stated.

Barnier and his team have started meeting stakeholders over recent months and intend to continue such outreach activity throughout the negotiations.

However, there are no specific topics on which “we would want to launch a formal open public consultation” at this stage, Juncker added.

O’Reilly has made transparency a key strategic goal of the European Ombudsman’s Office, with this type of inquiry accounting for one third of its work last year, according to the watchdog’s 2016 annual report.

But at a press conference to launch the report on 24 May, she stopped short of praising the commission’s statement on transparency, saying only that it puts a “strong emphasis on everything being shared”, the reported.

O’Reilly said the push for transparency has more to do with the fact that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has “urged quite the opposite: secrecy, warning against leaks, threatening sanctions against people who leak”.

“I’m not naive enough to think that this is because the EU council and the commission have fallen in love with transparency all of a sudden,” she said. “I see this as political play.”


Note: this article has been edited to correct an error – it is the European Commission that has pledged transparency over Brexit, not the Council of Ministers.

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See also:

UK union chief warns that civil servants lack resources to tackle Brexit

Leading Brexit campaigner says UK can remain open to immigrant labour

Report: ‘Deluded’ UK cannot afford to be smug on Brexit

May’s hard Brexit: starting position or ultimate goal?

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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