BRUSSELS - The two largest political groups in the European Parliament are currently blocking a rule that would increase voting transparency at the committee level.
Both the centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D groups on Thursday (6 February) delayed placing on the plenary agenda a procedural change that would require final legislative votes in committees to be electronically recorded and published for public scrutiny.
“It makes no sense for parliamentarians to refuse to disclose how they vote from their electorate – unless they have something to hide,” said Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt in a statement.
The issue was already discussed in January and was originally on this week’s Strasbourg plenary agenda but then got postponed to the plenary in the second half of February.
The two groups on Thursday at a closed-door meeting at the parliament’s conference of presidents, which organises plenary agenda items, managed to a secure a further delay by asking that the matter be discussed once more on 11 February.
The new delay makes the scheduled vote for the second half of February uncertain.
Current final committee votes is either taken by a show of hands, or, more rarely, by a so-called roll call vote where the MEPs use an electronic device that registers their names and how they voted.
MEPs’ votes in committee are only published if specifically requested and with the support of 25 percent of the committee members.
The new rule would make roll call votes mandatory.
A spokesperson at the centre-left group told this website in an email the European Parliament needs room for manoeuvre and flexibility in negotiations, which often evolve between committee and plenary.
“Roll-call votes in committee might be seen as fixing the position of members in the negotiations,” he said.
Pro-transparency groups point out the real decision-making on legislation in the parliament is often made at the committee levels.
They also point out a growing trend for legislative drafts to skip plenary sessions altogether and go straight to inter-institutional negotiations, making it difficult for ordinary people to ascertain how their elected officials voted in the first place.
Opponents argue making them public could obstruct negotiations among MEPs, rendering the legislative process more difficult.
“In theory, the argument against it is that you are taking away the space for negotiations between MEPs and that you in a way obstruct parliamentary work by tracking every individual’s vote,” noted another contact at the centre-left group, who did not want to be named because the party had yet to take an official line.
Legislative swaps, whereby an MEP or a group of MEPs make concessions to the opposing camp on a proposal in exchange for something else would also be more difficult, added the source.
The conservative camp was more direct.
EPP spokesperson Pedro Lopez said there are political consequences to full voting disclosures.
“Sometimes when we are negotiating legislative files, the agreement between the groups is done by the coordinators and sometimes the coordinator of the different political groups in a committee reach deals,” he said.
Lopez said full disclosure reduces the margins of negotiations between the political groups because everyone’s position would be clear.
He pointed out that the EPP is not against the rule as such but that it needs further discussion so that MEPs are fully informed of the proposal and its consequences on future legislative deliberations.
Olivier Hoedeman at the Brussels-base Corporate Europe Observatory said there are no convincing arguments against full transparency in the voting process at the parliament committees.
“Everybody who follows EU-decision making will know that committee votes are absolutely crucial and in many cases, that’s where the real decisions are made,” he said.
By Nikolaj Nielsen
SOURCE: EU Observer, February 7th 2014: http://euobserver.com/news/123033