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Brexit Offers The UK A Golden Opportunity For Political Transparency

10/01/2017 16:57

Both Shakespeare and Gordon Brown (alas) were famed for their monologues.

Dialogue and refers to two people talking with each other and is useful in debate and conflict resolution.

But what on Earth is a Trilogue?

Sometimes it is called a Trialogue.

But still, neither are recognised by spellcheck on my PC.

Believe it or not, Trilogue is one of the most, if not the most, important decision-making processes in the European Union. Yet, scour the Treaties and you will not find one mention of it. Or in legal terms Trilogues do not exist. Although article 295 of the TFEU does contain a general principle stating: "the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall consult each other and make arrangements for their cooperation by common agreement. To that end, they may, in compliance with the Treaties, conclude inter-institutional agreements, which may be of a binding nature." Clear as mud then.

So, Trilogues exist only as informal meetings, between representatives of the Council, the Parliament, and the Commission plus invited stakeholders. As Yannik Bendel, EU Policy Officer for EU Integrity for the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International said "Trilogue negotiations have become the new normal in EU lawmaking," with around 1,500 such meetings per year. Yet, as conceded by the European Ombudsman, Emma O' Reilly, "it is difficult to find out when trilogies are taking place, what is being discussed and by whom." The mysterious corridors of power indeed.

To recap:

• Only a select few get invited to Trilogue meetings
• Negotiations are behind closed doors
• Documents are not released to the public
• Lobbyists, of which there are in excess of 10,000 on the official register in Brussels (although the real number is thought to be over 30,000 accoriding to the Corporate Europe Observatory), can get an insight into the negotiations

Lobby groups hold thousands of closed door meetings per year with Commission officials (4,318 alone between December 2014 and June 2015 according to Integrity Watch) 'helping' the Commission make an 'informed' argument at the Trilogue meetings. The lobby groups (almost 8,000 registered) are an alphabet soup of acronyms representing, on a paid basis (no such thing as a free lunch in EU affairs), the interests of a huge range of players, including internet giants, industry, unions, farmers, pharmaceutical companies, and everyone's favourite: investment banks.

To reform this system requires it to become more transparent. The more knowledge that we, the public, have the less likely that the back room deals can be done. Holding the process up to the spotlight will help us all identify and stamp out dodgy deals and inappropriate interference. Yet back in September 2016 attempts to do this were quietly scuppered. He who pays the piper and all that.

Ahead of us in the European Parliament's legislative agenda is "Point 28 of the Interinstitutional Agreement of 13 April 2016 on Better Law-Making, and Points 10 and 11 of the Common Understanding annexed to that Agreement." Sounds utterly thrilling does it not? Contained within the proposal is "whenever broader expertise is needed in the early preparation of draft implementing acts, the Commission will make use of expert groups....as appropriate." Whoa there! So whenever the (unelected) Commission decides that it is appropriate, it can bring in whatever (self-appointed) "experts" it likes to validate its own position.

So, here we have it. In the name of increased democratic oversight (co-decision) the European Union has created a gold mine for unelected officials, self-appointed experts, lobbyists and other vested corporate interests to get involved in the law making process. All behind closed doors, obviously. No names, no pack drill, no transparency, no oversight.

Yet, here is the opportunity for post-Brexit UK. We can learn from the mistakes of the European Union and create a system of proper open government. A register of lobbyists, mandatory listing of lobby firms' clients and their annual billings, a process of open and transparent meetings with lawmakers and public officials, early notification of meetings and their agenda, and, of course, publication of minutes. All backed up by the criminal code. Some special exemptions may be necessary where the defence of the Realm is concerned naturally, but what would not be acceptable, as is too often the case, would be companies bidding for contracts hiding behind "sensitive market information." We live in a democracy, and so democratic standards must be upheld throughout the decision-making process, no-one should fear that unless they have something to hide. I am excited about the prospect of the United Kingdom unshackled from the murky world of Trilogue and look forward to clear and transparent lawmaking.

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