Legislative Transparency and Censorship in the Council of Ministers of the European Union

  • Abstract:
    The Council of Ministers as a legislative body advocates transparency in the legislative process, yet continues to censor certain documents pertaining to the negotiation process, even after these negotiations have been completed. This is despite the commitments made by the Council of Ministers to increasing transparency and accountability in the policy-making process (Council decisions 2000/23/EC; 2001/320/EC; Regulation (EC) No. 1059/2001). While transparency in the legislative process has greatly improved in recent years, much important information concerning the positions member states take on important policy issues in legislative negotiations is still censored before many documents are released to the public. This is a significant worry for those concerned with the accountability of decision makers, as the public’s ability to monitor and to evaluate how negotiators are representing their interests in negotiations is heavily reliant upon the public provision of negotiation records. In spite of the importance of this topic, little empirical research has investigated how censorship policy is applied and whether it is in line with the commitments towards legislative transparency. This paper seeks to examine why the Council of Ministers censors certain documents and types of information and not others. It presents a new dataset that identifies which legislative documents are being censored, and identifies patterns in censorship activity in order to assess whether such activity is in line with the Council of Minister’s commitment to legislative transparency. It furthermore examines whether censorship allows legislators to shirk responsibility towards domestic constituencies, when the true opinions expressed by actors during the negotiation process are censored from public view. The research thus sheds light upon the manner in which the Council of Ministers releases legislative records to the public, and whether it is doing so in line with the transparency commitments enshrined in EU law.