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Keeping the public in the dark: Council working parties will keep no minutes of meetings on next EU budget
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The EU is heading for major new developments with the Commission's proposals for massively increased justice and home affairs budgets for the 2021 to 2027 period, but it seems that some things never change - transparency in the Council is set to be kept at an absolute minimum.
New challenges, old problems
When the European Commission announced its proposals for the EU's internal security, migration and border control budgets for the 2021-27 period, officials were keen to highlight the "challenges" faced by the bloc and the need to address them by building "an effective and genuine Security Union".
These proposals are undoubtedly important - for example, they foresee significant transfers of power to the EU level (with the expansion of Frontex) and, in general, major increases in the EU's financial clout in the field of justice and home affairs.
Yet as the Member States negotiate the Council's position on those budgets prior to "trilogue" talks with the European Parliament it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the public to have any meaningful idea of what their governments are proposing or discussing, as the relevant working parties will not be keeping any minutes of their meetings.
New working parties
The Council has established an overarching working party to discuss the proposals on the 2021-27 budgets (the Ad hoc Working Party on the Multiannual Financial Framework) and another dealing with the specific proposals on security and migration (the Ad hoc Working Party on JHA (Justice and Home Affairs) Financial Instruments).
Statewatch asked the Council if records would be kept of those meetings and whether they would be made public, and was told: "We are not keeping minutes of the meetings of either working party."
Yet both have a crucial role in negotiations - for example, the Ad Hoc Working Party on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is responsible for all the "horizontal and financial" aspects of talks - and ad hoc working parties have been established to deal with each of the various proposals published by the Commission on different policy areas.
According to the mandate of the Ad hoc Working Party on JHA Financial Instruments - published here by Statewatch and not officially available to the public (9983/18, pdf) - it is responsible for assisting Coreper (the Brussels-based Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States):
"on the work related to the Multiannual Financial Framework in the area of Justice and Home Affairs so as to facilitate an agreement on all relevant aspects thereof."
It is to "work under Coreper's direction and report back to it," and:
"will examine the Commission legislative proposals for JHA related financial instruments under MFF 2021 - 2027, prepare related Council documents, and will coordinate and closely cooperate with the Ad Hoc Working Party (Multiannual Financial Framework) MFF on the horizontal and financial issues which are identified as being linked to the MFF."
The Ad hoc Working Party on JHA Financial Instruments has so far met twice, on 20 July and 23 July (links to pdfs).
On 21 June the Council did make public a progress report on "work within the Council in the first semester 2018" on the MFF proposals - a welcome move, but hardly the level of transparency necessary for people to be able to follow negotiations in any detail.
Nevertheless, until any follow-up report is published, the public will be left entirely in the dark as to what their governments' representatives are discussing in relation to the multi-billion euro "genuine and effective Security Union" that is being promised.
Note from: Presidency to: Permanent Representatives Committee (Part 2): MFF 2021-27 - Organisation of work in the Council - establishment and mandate of an Ad Hoc Working Party on JHA Financial Instruments (9983/18, LIMITE, 13 June 2018, pdf)
Massive funding increases proposed for internal security, border security and migration: full documentation (Statewatch News Online, 13 June 2018)
Budget proposals foresee big boost for spending on security, migration and border control (Statewatch News Online, 10 May 2018)
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