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Transparency and openness in European institutions

Resolution 2125 (2016)

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 23 June 2016 (26th Sitting) (see Doc. 14075, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Ms Nataša Vučković; and Doc. 14096, opinion of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, rapporteur: Ms Chiora Taktakishvili). Text adopted by the Assembly on 23 June 2016 (26th Sitting). See also Recommendation 2094 (2016).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its Resolution 1744 (2010) on extra-institutional actors in the democratic system, Recommendation 1908 (2010) “Lobbying in a democratic society (European code of good conduct of lobbying)” and its Resolution 1943 (2013) and Recommendation 2019 (2013) on corruption as a threat to the rule of law.
2. The Assembly recalls that extra-institutional actors, including interest and pressure groups, trade unions and consumer organisations, are part of democratic societies. Their lobbying activities are not illegitimate per se and can even be beneficial for the functioning of a democratic political system. However, unregulated and non-transparent lobbying may undermine democratic principles and good governance. Citizens should know which actors influence the making of political decisions.
3. The Assembly recalls the Council of Europe’s acquis in the area of promoting good governance and transparency of democratic institutions, in particular the Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No. 205), and welcomes the work of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in this field. Moreover, principles of good conduct on lobbying are included in paragraph 11 of Assembly Recommendation 1908 (2010) and may serve as guidelines for elaborating regulations on lobbying.
4. The Assembly notes that the European Union and its institutions – the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission – are particularly targeted by various lobbying groups, in view of their legislative and decision-making functions in implementing the European Union internal market. This has an impact on European Union citizens and on consumers in Europe and worldwide.
5. The Assembly notes with concern cases of secret and unbalanced lobbying, reports on conflicts of interest and the practice of limited access to official documents within some of the European Union institutions. Some of these cases have been investigated by the European Ombudsman, who has found “maladministration” and has subsequently made specific recommendations to those institutions.
6. The Assembly welcomes the measures recently taken by the European Union institutions to improve its transparency and avoid conflicts of interest among its officials, in particular the revamped Joint Transparency Register set up in the European Parliament and the European Commission and the adoption, in 2011, of the Code of Conduct for Commissioners. It stresses that the values of democracy and good governance, enshrined in European Union law and on which the European Union is grounded, inspire many nations, citizens and democratic movements in Europe and worldwide. It notes, however, that additional measures need to be introduced in order to ensure fair and balanced access to the European Union institutions by all interested parties, including non-economic interest groups, as well as full and unimpeded access to their documents.
7. The Assembly also notes that very few Council of Europe member States have a regulatory framework on lobbying activities, including a transparency register. It therefore calls on national parliaments to ensure that such frameworks are set up and to reinforce legal and institutional guarantees for civil society and the media as far as the monitoring of lobbyist activities is concerned, including the possibility of verifying the accuracy of data contained in a register.
8. The Assembly calls on member States to do their utmost to promote the principles of transparency, accountability, integrity and primacy of the public interest and to implement the existing international instruments in this field, including the relevant Council of Europe conventions and recommendations which include the recommendations of GRECO.
9. The Assembly also calls on the European Union and on those member States of the Council of Europe which have not yet done so to sign and/or ratify the Convention on Access to Official Documents and to take into account Assembly Recommendation 1908 (2010).
10. The Assembly calls on the European Union to step up its co-operation with the Council of Europe in the fight against corruption, in particular by speeding up the negotiations on European Union participation in GRECO. It also calls on the European Union institutions to take their decisions as openly as possible. For this purpose, the Assembly recommends that the European Union institutions:
10.1 implement the European Ombudsman’s recommendations on transparency, on avoiding conflicts of interest and on ensuring access to documents;
10.2 further improve the Joint Transparency Register, by expanding it to all institutions of the European Union, making registration of lobbyists obligatory and introducing sanctions for non-registration and for providing inaccurate data;
10.3 publish legislative footprints in order to track any input received from third parties aimed at influencing European Union legislation and policies;
10.4 amend the European Parliament’s Code of Conduct by introducing “cooling-off” periods for departing members in order to avoid conflicts of interest;
10.5 revise Regulation (EC) No. 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents in order to expand it to other European Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.
11. The Assembly values the relevant contributions by (I)NGOs ((international) non-governmental organisations) to its own work, as well as to the work of standard-setting and monitoring bodies. (I)NGOs bring expertise, identify new issues to be addressed, share information and advocate Council of Europe standards, at European and national level. The Assembly welcomes the decision of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to revise, in consultation with the Conference of INGOs, the guidelines on the participatory status for INGOs within the Council of Europe. In the framework of the forthcoming revision, the Assembly invites the Secretary General to ensure that (I)NGOs involved in the Council of Europe’s work are the most varied, representative and relevant possible and ensure a fair geographical representation. Special steps should also be taken to ensure that the relevant secretariats have enough time and resources to reach out to new relevant (I)NGOs, including youth organisations, and to create new partnerships.
12. The Assembly welcomes the gradual consolidation of the Council of Europe integrity system for staff and the one set up by the Parliamentary Assembly for its members. The Assembly undertakes to take further steps to improve its own efficiency and effectiveness in dealing with conflict of interest situations through, notably, organising information seminars for both members of the Assembly and Council of Europe staff in order to deal effectively with situations relating to allegations of conflicts of interest, and reflecting on the need to widen the definition of conflict of interest. The Assembly invites its Bureau to continue reflecting on the best possible ways to ensure transparency of the interactions between interest group representatives and Assembly members.