Trialogues have become one of the most used decision-making tools in the EU system. On the one hand they create a convenient shortcut for EU institutions to speed up lengthy decision-making procedures – on the other hand they are non-transparent, undemocratic, secret – and create a system without a sense of accountability. The biggest problem that we – the citizens – have is that we simply don’t know much about trialogues, as this excellent piece in the EUobserver explains:
Search for any mention of trialogues in the EU treaties and you will draw a blank. This is because despite being an accepted part of the lawmaking landscape, in legal terms trialogues don’t exist. All trialogue meetings are informal and the timing of the meetings are not known to most MEPs, let alone the ordinary public. There are no formal minutes taken. Some are over within a few minutes. Others can go on all day and well into the night.
In the coming years we may see some institutional changes in the system as VP Frans Timmermans has identified the practice of ‘trialogues’ as a problem that should be tackled. (btw: if David Cameron was *really* interested in genuine ‘EU reform’ this would be an issue to begin with…)
The trialogue issue is about transparency and accountability. As a citizen I simply want to know who is responsible for a deal, who suggested what compromise text – and I want to know why certain things disappear from a legislative proposal. Yes, this is something journalists should do – but it is also an institutional problem as we basically have no public record of trialogues, we don’t know anything about it: What is on the agenda of those meetings? When do they happen? Where do they happen? Who participates? What was agreed?
So, to put some pressure on EU institutions to change the practice of trialogues, here is a quick project idea – combining journalism, activism as well as the willingness among insiders to share/leak some of the data. What do we need?
We need ‘Trialogue Watch’!
The aim would be to set-up a website/blog that tracks trialogues and which would provide a simple crowdsourced data set about those meetings: date of the meeting, invited participants, topic / agenda of the meeting…
In a second step this could be linked with the respective legislative proposal and a summary of the outcome of each meeting. This would require a regular stream of leaks – and a number of journalists whose job it would be to chase participants and write up quick blog posts about each meeting. (Well, here is a problem: “on average, around 25 separate trialogue meetings take place each week“)
How to do it: We would need a website that allows anonymous submissions of basic trialogue data (see above). For the website we would need some coders and someone who would like to host and do some website admin. Then we would need to get the data from somehwere – and this will be the problem. So yes, I am looking at you: MPs and MP assistants who think it should be in the interest of the EU to publish basic data about trialogues (preferably also minutes of meetings) But I am also thinking of journalists who hear about a trialogue from some contacts within the EU institutions. The aim is to have some sort of calendar which tracks trialogue meetings and gives us names, topics and dates. This would allow the public to get at least a basic idea of what’s going on and who is responsible for the decisions.
The real aim?
The aim behind the project is to show EU institutions how and why they should reform the system. It could be an experiment to put pressure on EU institution with two simple messages: Look at what can be done without you – and yes, there are people out there who care about it – so do get your act togehter.
There are several options for the EU: trialogues could simply be abolished, the EU could ‘institutionalise’ trialogues as a normal decision-making tool or they could at least increase transparency.
So if EU institutions copy our little ‘trialogue watch’ and start offering basic data on these meetings our job would be done! (and we could move on to evaluate the content of the deals reached via trialogues!)
So – who’s in?
PS: Feel free and contact me if you are interested in getting involved (or if you know of a similar project elsewhere!) I am not sure I would have time to really work on this project but I am happy to organise a first meeting or facilitate some sort of online exchange.