Posts tagged ‘transparency’

Council’s website: a symbol for all that’s wrong with the EU?

Council of the European UnionImage via Wikipedia

Some of us have had a particular bugbear about the Council of Minister’s lack of transparency for some time now. We’ve even taken the time to write irate letters to the FT on the subject (much to the shock of colleagues it must be admitted).

Ok, so Council has opened up to hold “public deliberations” (mostly on topics where agreement has already been reached), but the single most annoying thing about the Council (other than the fact that it continues to believe that it is an intergovernmental institution, rather than just one part of a bicameral legislature) is its website. Frankly, the way it is designed to obfuscate and confuse. It is a symbol for all that is wrong in the institution as a whole.

As colleagues have pointed out, trying to find a document – any document – that relates to Council discussions on a particular legislative text is annoyingly hard (sometimes impossible). The only way to do it is a search through the document registry by COD number, keyword or date or browse a long list of latest documents and hope you strike gold. It’s annoying for us and this is what we do for a living – imagine you’re an interested citizen seeking to understand the way Council deals with legislation (long shot, I know).

Of course once you find a relevant document, it doesn’t mean that you can access it online. No, it’s most likely restricted and you have to ask for permission to see it. A few weeks later you’ll get a reply, by which stage if you are anything like we are you will have found another way to get sight of it or at the very least understand the contents of it. We never quite understood the rationale here. Surely all documents should be available unless public authorities can prove them to be sensitive for some reason. The burden being on the public institutions to prove sensitivity rather than the citizen to prove that he/she should have access to them. Frankly, sometimes I request restricted documents because as a citizen I think it my right and duty to keep the Council on its toes.

We are spurred to write this particular rant as while perusing the Council’s latest documents list, we found this document – a handy breakdown of the Working Parties that exist under each Council formation. It occured to us that if Council can produce this, they can also produce a website whereby for each Council formation you can click on each working group, see the agendas of the meetings and all the documents under discussion. Almost like the Council meetings were plenary sessions and the Working Parties committees…My god, the Council website could even be like the Parliament site before the EP decided to take a leaf out of the Council’s book.

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July 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm 5 comments

Why it is better that public affairs is public

Amidst the continuing discussions over transparency here in Brussels, a blog entry on the advocacy activities of eBay on the European Parliament Blog  reminds us that whatever position an organisation advocates towards policymakers, they should be prepared for it to become public.

Brussels is, so the cliche goes, a small town. You’d be amazed how willing people are to talk about who is saying what on any given issue. Its part of the unwritten rules of the game. And that goes for institutional actors as well as lobbyists (consultants, corporates, trade associations, NGOs et al). The position paper that you just emailed to the MEP’s office could be forwarded to anyone at the touch of a button, more than that it probably will be.

As such, it is not just an organisation’s lawyers who should be checking what you write in your position paper. The public affairs team should also ensure that whatever is advocated fits in with corporate messages and the core values of the organisation. Such an approach seems like common sense, but in our experience is not always followed when an organisation’s bottom line is at stake.

Such an approach also makes a lot of sense in terms of ensuring that an organisation’s advocacy is effective. Decision-makers in Brussels need information and are happy to  listen as long as you have something to say that is relevant to them and what they are trying to achieve. The result of Brussels openness, despite what some may say, is better legislation and a vibrant public affairs culture that stresses professionalism rather than personal contacts.

In such a system, what you say, how it resonates with policymakers’ objectives and when you say it are going to play a large role in how successful you are in persuading people. But underpinning this is how credible you are as an organisation in making that case. How much the decision-maker sees you as authoritative on the issue and how far your position echoes what they think you stand for are therefore important factors in how likely you are to be believed.

We think many organisations are getting this, as we have seen many more investing time in building their reputation with decision-makers in recent years. It is for a large part about ensuring that Corporate Communications and PA work together hand in glove. They are after all both communications functions. Such investments are sometimes difficult to justify internally, but PA functions in enlightened companies seem to be winning the argument.

One example of this is Sun Microsystems, an open source company that takes its approach to business over to how it communicates its stance on policy issues. You can find their policy positions on their website. Other examples that we have come across are consumer goods manufacturer P&G and of course Google’s (US focused) Public Policy blog.

Now there’s transparency at work.

September 7, 2007 at 9:57 am 2 comments

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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at

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