Understanding EU-level decision-making is complicated. You have to be quite an expert to search and find relevant EU documents, even when they are public.
So getting an idea on what is going on right now in the EU is beyond the capabilities of most, which is why I am also interested in the renewal of Eur-Lex as I have shown in a previous blog post. At the time of writing I’am still waiting for an answer on a Freedom of Information request for some Council documents on this matter.
But let me you show with an exemplary journey through EU documents what I mean:
I was just looking at the Calendar of meetings of the EU Council for today. As you can see, the calendar not only includes minister-level meetings but the working-level meetings of the Council too. At this stage, I’ve actually already left the sphere of attention of probably ~99% of people not dealing with the EU on a daily bases. Most people wouldn’t even realise that this level exists (or that it is documented).
Now say I was interested in the agenda of the second meeting listed for today, that is for the Working Party on “HORIZONTAL AGRICULTURAL QUESTIONS“. You may notice that the agendas of the meetings are not linked.
Yet, since I know from EU experience that the agenda should exist, I go to the search interface for Council documents. In the search field “Words in … Title” I enter “HORIZONTAL AGRICULTURAL QUESTIONS”, “13” “January”, “2011” which brings me to the following result page showing that the agenda exists. On this page, a click to the PDF file symbol on the right takes me to the agenda of the meeting.
Now I see that the only item of substance on the Agenda is the “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – the CAP towards 2020: meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of the future“.
If you follow EU decision-making, you will have learned that any document starting with “Communication from the Commission…” has an official document reference, even though it is not mentioned in the agenda.
I want to know what this document reference is, because I know I will need it. Since the current Eur-Lex search is really bad if you don’t have the right number, I google for the full title of the Communication and find out, on the first Google result (which is a Eur-Lex page!), at the middle of the site, that the document reference it is “COM/2010/0672” (i.e. COM(2010)672). There I also find the link to the PDF of the original Commission document.
Had I gone to Pre-Lex search interface (the search for all interinstitutional procedures of the EU) to search for the full procedure based on the title of this document, I would neither have found the Commission Communication nor the Working Party agenda.
Entering the title of the Communication into the search field on the right of the Pre-Lex search results in an error. So I really needed the document reference. I enter the document reference (COM, 2010, 672) that I’ve found before and this leads to the interinstitutional dossier on the Commission Communication. There you will note that the last reference to this procedure is from December 2010, namely a link to a press release from a Council meeting. The press release link leads to a non-existing page… [Update: I am told on Twitter, here & here, that the link works for them. It still doesn’t work with me, though – don’t know why.] What you also notice is that there is no mentioning of any working-level meetings on Pre-Lex.
You may, however, remember, that this is where my little journey has started. In other words: For anyone looking for the ongoing decision-making on this procedure who doesn’t know all the search interfaces of the EU, the quest would have ended here, that is on a non-existing press release of the Council from December 2010, without knowing that on the Council working level the procedure continues.
For the sake of completeness, I also wanted to see what the European Parliament has been doing on this matter. Knowing where to search, I go to OEIL, the process-tracing interface of the EP. I search for the procedure by using the search by Commission document number (remember: it was COM,2010,672). Two clicks further, I arrive at the respective procedure in the European Parliament.
There, I realise the Parliament doesn’t seem to be working on this for the moment. You also won’t find any references to anything the Council has been doing on this so far. So if you had been trying to find out what was going on by using the Parliament search, you would have ended at more or less nothing.
I could continue this quest, but I will stop here…
If the world was perfect, I would have gone to the Council calendar, and the agenda of the Working Party had been already linked. In the agenda, a link would have brought me to the original Commission Communication. And on the page of the Commission Communication I would have been able to go back to the Council or to the Parliament (or to any other EU institution’s) website and would have found all meetings and meeting documents related to this.
Technically this perfect world idea should be possible. But the world of the EU is not perfect, I’m afraid, at least not yet…
Update: By chance, I just came across a number of related documents with (member states’) delegations’ comments on this Communication. They are not public…