UK Politics

'Lift lid' on EU decisions, says MPs' committee

Bill Cash Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Bill Cash says the public needs to be better informed

Ministers should "lift the lid" on the way decisions are made by one of the EU's main bodies, MPs say.

More transparency is needed about the "complex" way decisions are made at the Council of the European Union, the European Scrutiny Committee said.

They want to gauge how much legislation "is simply nodded through" by ministers after talks between officials.

The government said it was "fully committed to high levels of transparency in EU decision-making".

A Foreign Office spokesman added: "That's why we pushed for and recently secured a greater role for national parliaments in scrutinising EU legislative proposals."

Along with the European Parliament, the Council of the EU is the organisation's main decision-making body.

'Damage reduction'

In its report, the European Scrutiny Committee said the process for agreement at the Council was complex, could involve discussions by one of 150 working groups at the official level and at the ambassadorial level - Coreper - before being agreed by ministers.

It recognised that progress had been made in increasing the information available about the final outcome of negotiations between ministers.

But they said it was "still very unclear how those decisions are reached", with some having to be agreed by consensus after years of difficult discussions "mostly at official level".

Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, told the committee that decision-making by consensus meant that the process was one of "trying to stop really bad things happening and damage reduction".

But one of his predecessors in the role, Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett, who backs the EU Remain campaign, told the committee that she had never agreed to a measure that she thought "on balance, was in any way against the interest of our country" and said Qualified Majority Voting had allowed the UK government to advance its interests.

Committee chairman Sir Bill Cash, a leading Eurosceptic, said: "UK citizens should be fully informed and given the facts as to how the 55% of EU laws which govern them are made.

"Many UK laws and measures include obligations derived from EU law. The bulk of decisions on such laws are made by officials and then nodded through by ministers.

"There is no information on how those decisions are reached, including who has had to compromise and at what price. Over 50% of decisions are agreed by consensus, which means policy differences can be invisible to the electorate."

The committee urged the government to "take action" to make more information available to the UK Parliament and to take a lead in the EU by "making public statements of the reason for its vote more frequently".

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