Pressure grows to outlaw EU secret deals

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The Independent Online
Hidden deals between European governments that contradict published law should be banned and the minutes of all ministerial negotiations made public, MEPs and consumer groups said yesterday.

Environmental groups are furious to learn that legal safeguards agreed by the EU on carbon monoxide emissions and hazardous waste have been watered down by member states behind closed doors. MEPs say they were hoodwinked by EU ministers' private agreements.

Their comments followed a disclosure in the Independent of a confidential report by EU legal experts that accused governments of "undermining legal certainty" by agreeing texts that contradict official EU law. MEPs were outraged to discover they had been left in the dark about recent changes agreed by ministers, which moderate new EU data-protection laws.

Under new procedures, the parliament must have a say in the shape of certain EU laws, including data protection. A new data protection law is to be agreed in the next few weeks, following consultation between the Council of Ministers, the main legislative body, and the parliament, However, it has emerged that the ministers secretly agreed 31 statements on how they will interpret the law, some of which give countries opt-outs from the published law. The parliament, however, was not informed about any of the statements.

"We in the parliament are jointly responsible for the shape of the final directive. Now we fear we could end up in the dock because member states have agreed something different between them, of which we were not informed," said Fraser Clarke, legal advisor to the Socialist MEPs.

There is certain to be strong resistance to the publication of secret agreements among member states, which insist that they are a useful negotiating tools. "Without these joint statements, there would simply be less agreements," a senior German diplomat said.

But pressure for action is mounting. Denmark is pushing for publication of minutes of all meetings which ministers and their officials have in private.

"A directive is written which people think means one thing and now we discover that member states decided in private it meant something else," said Nigel Hague, of the Institute for Environmental Policy.

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