Sunday, 15 March 2009

European Parliament: Publishing proceedings (accessibility & accountability)

Public parliamentary proceedings and records are important. At treaty level the European Parliament is given the duty to publish its proceedings officially.

Internet publication and press services cater to immediate and practical needs.

It is a huge task for the European Parliament to serve nearly 500 million EU residents and more than 700 MEPs (more or less equally) in 23 official languages.

The internal bodies of the EP could make their materials more accessible to EU citizens, but in accessibility and accountability the European Parliament beats the Council fair and square.


Current treaty

Article 199 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), as published in the consolidated version of the treaties in force in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 29.12.2006 C 321 E/135, concerns two aspects of the European Parliament:

1) adopting the Rules of Procedure, and
2) publishing the proceedings.

Article 199 TEC

The European Parliament shall adopt its Rules of Procedure, acting by a majority of its Members.

The proceedings of the European Parliament shall be published in the manner laid down in its Rules of Procedure.


Original Lisbon Treaty

Article 2, point 187 of the original Treaty of Lisbon amended the second paragraph of Article 197 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/103):

187) In the second paragraph of Article 199, the words ‘manner laid down in its Rules of Procedure’ shall be replaced by ‘manner laid down in the Treaties and in its Rules of Procedure’.


Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

In the consolidated (readable) Treaty of Lisbon the slightly amended provision became Article 232 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), published OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/152:

Article 232 TFEU
(ex Article 199 TEC)

The European Parliament shall adopt its Rules of Procedure, acting by a majority of its Members.

The proceedings of the European Parliament shall be published in the manner laid down in the Treaties and in its Rules of Procedure.


EP Rules of Procedure


The main provisions on publishing are found in the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament (16th edition, October 2008).

The minutes of the proceedings, containing the decisions and the names of speakers, are produced and approved quickly.

They are published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). Actual publication of the minutes lags far behind the month mentioned.

The 257 page minutes of the sittings from 15 to 18 December 2008 were published in OJEU 12.3.2009 C 58E, almost three months later. They were available in the official languages, including Maltese and the newest ones Bulgarian and Romanian, but not in Gaelic (Irish).

The lag means that the minutes officially published are of interest to researchers, but for more immediate purposes Internet publishing in general and the Press service of the EP are more suitable:


Rule 172 Minutes

1. The minutes of each sitting, containing the decisions of Parliament and the names of speakers, shall be distributed at least half an hour before the beginning of the afternoon period of the next sitting.

[Official explanation: In the context of legislative proceedings, any amendments adopted by Parliament are also deemed to be decisions within the meaning of this paragraph, even if the relevant Commission proposal or the Council's common position is ultimately rejected, pursuant to Rule 52(1) or Rule 61(3) respectively.]

The texts adopted by Parliament shall be distributed separately. Where legislative texts adopted by Parliament contain amendments, they shall be published in a consolidated version.

2. At the beginning of the afternoon period of each sitting the President shall place before Parliament, for its approval, the minutes of the previous sitting.

3. If any objections are raised to the minutes Parliament shall, if necessary, decide whether the changes requested should be considered. No Member may speak on the minutes for more than one minute.

4. The minutes shall be signed by the President and the Secretary-General and preserved in the records of Parliament. They shall be published within one month in the Official Journal of the European Union.


Verbatim reports

Written records of the proceedings are produced, but published in a little known annex to the Official Journal at a more leisurely pace:

Rule 173 Verbatim reports

1. A verbatim report of the proceedings of each sitting shall be drawn up in all official languages.

2. Speakers shall be required to return corrections to typescripts of their speeches to the Secretariat within one week.

3. The verbatim report shall be published as an annex to the Official Journal of the European Union.

4. Members may request extracts of the verbatim report to be translated at short notice.


Audiovisual record

There is more immediacy to the posting of the proceedings of the plenary on the Internet, officially immediately after the sitting.

In practice it is quicker than that, because you can follow the proceedings live (Séance en direct), either listening to the speakers in the original language or with (almost) simultaneous interpretation depending on if there is a bridging language between the source language and your language (target language):

Rule 173 a Audiovisual record of proceedings

Immediately after the sitting, an audiovisual record of the proceedings, including the soundtrack from all interpretation booths, shall be produced and made available on the Internet.


Press service and information on the web

Accountability and accessibility

The Press service of the European Parliament produces material ahead of the sessions and of the sittings on a daily basis. The press releases often contain links to the committee reports or the approved texts (resolutions).

In addition, the web pages of the European Parliament offer general information about the EP and MEPs and links to the political groups, as well as possibilities to find meeting documents, draft reports and reports of committees.

The Legislative Observatory offers search opportunities (not always easy to master) and possibilities to follow individual procedures.

Ahead of the European elections in June 2009, the European Parliament has launched informative election pages.

All in all, the proceedings of the European Parliament leave a fairly clear paper trail (although the reasons given may be opaque) and the materials on the political work are relatively accessible for citizens. Compare with the Council’s web pages, and you see the difference.

Although relatively few EU citizens are interested in the inner workings of the European Parliament, it would enhance visibility and accountability to make the meeting documents of the internal bodies (Bureau, Conference of Presidents) readily available on the Internet.

Ralf Grahn