EU Ombudsman welcomes promise of transparent Brexit

European Commission pledge at odds with Theresa May’s wish for cloak of secrecy

Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman. Photograph: Alan Betson

Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A promise from the European Commission that the Brexit negotiations will be conducted with “unique and unprecedented transparency” is welcome, the EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said on Wednesday.

How it works out in practice would be “interesting”, she noted somewhat sceptically, not least because British prime minister Theresa May has made clear her preference for conducting the negotiations under a cloak of secrecy.

The commission’s pledge, she said, was something of a “political play” in that context, although they could not force the UK to publish its submissions to the talks.

“But once the negotiations start, the commission [which will lead the negotiations for the 27] will increasingly need to consult stakeholders to make fully informed decisions,” she said. “At this stage the public will need ever-greater reassurance about how the commission is treating the input.”

Lobbying guidelines

Ms O’Reilly, launching her office’s annual report for 2016 in Brussels, said that the Council of Ministers remained the EU institution with which her office engaged least but there were signs of progress on transparency.

Her office, which has taken on an increasing role in championing freedom of information in the institutions in recent years, also published on Wednesday a list of dos and don’ts for EU officials governing their interactions with the huge Brussels lobbying industry.

“It is not always obvious to public officials as to what constitutes acceptable lobbying . . . This checklist will help ordinary civil servants to navigate these occasionally tricky waters,” Ms O’Reilly said.

Her office handled 1,880 individual complaints from around the EU last year and opened 245 formal inquiries, referring most of the balance to competent national bodies. Some 52 complaints were made in Ireland, and eight inquiries opened.

Fifty eight per cent of inquiries concerned complaints about the commission, while a majority involved either freedom of information or management of EU personnel issues.