EC secret-voting policy revealed

juncker132~_v-videoweblThe European Commission has recently “declassified” its internal policy on secret voting and keeping “special minutes” in which such votes are recorded.

Unchanged since its adoption by the Prodi Commission in 2000, the in-house policy document can accessed here for the first time publicly, albeit only in French.

There is no change in the institution’s policy of confidentiality, so far at least. Results of individual votes remain secret, as does (normally) the fact of votes occurring.

Treaty does not require College voting secrecy

The choice to maintain voting secrecy is however one made by Commissioners alone. Each incoming College assumes the policies of its predecessor unless it decides differently.

Treaty provisions do require the College to decide matters if necessary by majority voting (Article 250 TFEU) and to adopt rules of procedure (Articles 249).

However it is only within these self-determined procedural rules, first adopted in 1963 (link) and renewed most recently in 2010 (link) that the policy basis for confidentiality in the College is today maintained.

Public access to 9 April voting record denied

In April this year, the College adopted new state aid guidelines covering environment and energy. The public minutes (link) record only that the President “noted that a majority […] supported the approach put forward by Mr Almunia“.

Yet in reality the voting result was 18 for, 1 against, and 3 abstentions, according to the Vice-President’s remarks in the press room later the same day and also broadcast on EBS.

Subsequently, while the EC’s secretariat general confirmed the special minutes for the 8 April College did record a voting result on the state aid file, it refuses to release the document which records what the vote’s outcome was in any detail.

Roll-call votes?

Roll-call votes are normal for new EU legislation, in Parliament for MEPs and in Council for national delegations. Why is it not so also in the Commission, at least for legislative and major policy proposals?

One answer maybe that individual Commissioners could come under greater pressure to be influenced by the national administrations that first nominated them. (E.g. “If you don’t support our national line then no more patronage when your current term of office is over!“)

While I have some sympathy for such a claim, each and every new commissioner has pledged an oath before the Court of Justice not to take any instructions and only to act in the common interest.

However, even if a Commission decides roll-call votes should be kept confidential, I see no reason why only the numerical voting results (such as in the Almunia example) cannot normally be made public by inclusion of this data in the ordinary minutes rather than kept secret the special minutes.

A new mandate, a new openness?

I think these issues are worth discussing by the wider EU policy community. Surely it is a significant anomaly that Parliament and Council normally vote in public while the Commission votes in secret. Europe would function better, progress further and be more accountable if the Commission and indeed all institutions operated more openly.

As I’ve shown, the Commission is not bound to be secret, it is its own choice. At the time of a new incoming College led by Jean-Claude Juncker from 1 November, isn’t now the best moment to start afresh?


2 thoughts on “EC secret-voting policy revealed

  1. Pingback: New College, old rules |

  2. Pingback: Jean-Claude’s Method |

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