A Prerequisite for Accountability: Access to Information in the German European Affairs Council
Keywords:Information, parliamentary oversight, European affairs
Negotiations in the Council of the European Union have been described as non-transparent since access to certain documents concerning the deliberations is restricted. As a result, national parliaments struggle to hold their national governments to account. Parliaments, providing a direct link between voters and the executive, play a vital role in granting legitimacy to the EU. Their incapacity weakens the democratic legitimacy of the European project. Existing literature on the topic has examined the formal powers of national parliaments and how active they are. However, it has failed to explore their access to information. This paper analyses the access to information on deliberations in the Council by the German European Affairs Committee (EAC) in the Bundestag. Interviews were conducted with members of the German EAC and their EU policy advisors. The analysis revealed that the German EAC employs an extensive network of direct oversight, manually scrutinizing a large number of documents. Certain limitations of this method were revealed, as due to capacity constraints only select decisions were examined. Individual citizens, organized interest and the media were shown to play a role in triggering the oversight at times, thus providing the impetus to start the scrutiny process.
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