Are you allowed to spoil a party when you are invited? What if the host of the party actually is quite schizophrenic, one day ignores you and the other day treats you like your best friend?
The EU Council is such a schizophrenic institution. EU member states either use it to fight populist fights against other countries to gain points back home or they try everything to secure the secrecy of the institution to stand for policies they would not be ready to defend publicly.
Tomorrow, I’m invited to participate in the second round of the pilot project in which selected bloggers get an accreditation to the EU Council. The Extraordinary Council on Justice and Home Affairs (follow the link for the background note) meets to mainly discuss migration issues at the southern borders of the EU following the beginning of the Libyan war.
I’ll be, for the second time, able to see the Council meeting as any accredited journalist can see it (i.e. not the meeting but the stuff around it), including off-the-record briefings I’m not supposed to talk about (that’s part of the pact between journalists and institutions).
Joe, who’s participating with me, has already asked the public on the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” to propose questions we could ask tomorrow, and a heated discussion, including some interesting proposals has developed.
At the same time, I’m still waiting for a document I had requested from the Council on 11 April in order to write an in-depth blog post on the European Maritime Safety Agency and the possible reform (see my article on the visit to this EU body last month), which I never did because I didn’t get the full document from the Council.
The document requested was not public at all when I requested it and I was given partial access on 18 April, blanking out the names of member states – actually the main information I wanted to have. So on 26 April I filed a confirmatory application to get the full document, an application that however has not been discussed at the meeting of the responsible working group in the Council last Friday.
Given that the next meeting of this group is only next week on Friday, the 15 working days the Council has to react to such a request will have passed – and according to Article 8.3 of Regulation 1049/2001 I have to start considering going to Court or starting a procedure at the EU Ombudsman to come to my right.
So the same Council that pretends to be open by inviting me as a more or less selected blogger to cover a Council meeting from behind the scenes, bringing in a “kind-of” citizen’s perspective, is effectively preventing me from blogging about substance by not acknowledging my citizen’s right to openness, refusing to fully publish a document that I wanted to have to blog almost a month ago.
Until now, despite all the social media buzz the Council is trying to produce, the secrecy and ignorance I see when trying to get to the substance of policy-making still is the real face of this EU institution that may have started to understand how 21st century PR works but that has not yet understood how 21st century democracy should look like.
I know that behind these processes there are different people and I acknowledge the determination (and to a certain extend risk-taking) of those pushing for change, but I’d prefer not to be invited to Council meetings as a blogger in exchange for getting member states’ positions in all legislative documents, including at preparatory stages.
So I will be in the Council tomorrow to cover what I can cover, trying to bring in a little more light, but don’t expect me to believe that by having two bloggers in the holy sphere of the press anything of substance has changed.
There’s a long way to go for that, and unless the Council does not change in this regard a lot of the citizens outreach is just cosmetics.