Council cover-up over voting methods
Brussels - WWF has accused the EU Council of Ministers of mounting “a damaging cover-up” over its decision-making procedures following a refusal by the institution today to release in full an in-house legal opinion on when to use qualified majority voting to adopt ‘conclusions’.The decision, formally answering WWF’s second transparency appeal on the issue, was taken at the start of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council without debate (links to the WWF application and the Council’s final draft reply).
Six member states  voted against the decision, stating jointly that they “cannot fully agree with the reasoning regarding the overall sensitive nature of the legal advice or with the reasoning regarding the absence of an overriding public interest in disclosure”. In a preceding case, the Council had tried to claim no such document existed.
“By keeping this document secret, and against a clear overriding public interest, the Council has mounted a damaging cover-up,” said Mark Johnston, senior adviser at WWF European Policy Office. “If majority voting were to have been used, then vital new domestic energy and climate policies would have won Council backing and Europe’s position in UN negotiations would be much stronger. Citizen’s rights to both transparent accountable public administration and to effective environmental protection cannot continue to be harmed so significantly.”
WWF began using EU freedom of information law to probe Council decision-making methods in June, after conclusions on long-term climate and energy 2050 Roadmaps were vetoed for a third time by a single member state.
Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union states that: “The Council shall act by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise.” So far the Council has failed to explain in any official document why this requirement is not being met.
“Replacement” legal advice also sought
On 16 October 2012, as a result of questions by several MEPs and by WWF, the Council’s legal service introduced a different opinion on the adoption of conclusions (link to document 15018/12). The legal service claims that the new document “replaces” the 2004 advice and is necessary due to the entry into force in 2009 of the Lisbon Treaty.
However, no specific reasons or references are provided to justify the claim that the Lisbon Treaty has had any material impact on the issue at hand. The new legal advice remains confidential at the present time, but is also subject to a new and more recent transparency application by WWF. This third case is expected to conclude in December or January.
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1. Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Netherland, Slovenia and Sweden.
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