Transparency has entered the scene in the European Union, but why?
Over the past two decades, transparency has made a rapid career as a concept of public administration. Inmany settings of governance around the world, it has become an instrument that is taken increasingly seriously. The European Union, too, has embraced the idea of openness, and established a transparency policy of its own. This initiative for this policy was taken in 1992, when a declaration concerning access toinformation was attached to the Maastricht Treaty. Since then, the Council of Ministers took the initiativein developing this policy further. Seventeen years later, as the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, aremarkable turn could be observed in the Council’s attitude towards transparency. Nearly twenty years on,transparency is here to stay, and it is considered a central instrument of democratic European governance. The changing attitude with regard to the idea of transparency is remarkable given the historicaltrack record of the EU, and especially the Council. The way in which the Council operated before 1992has been recurrently typified as closed and at some distance from the public, as is characteristic of international organisations in which the rules of diplomacy are dominant. The question therefore arises,how it is possible that the attitude of the Council took such a radical turn within a timeframe of under twodecades. When studying how the attitude of the Council toward transparency changed over time, theacademic literature on transparency can inform us on the types of issues that have been connected to theconcept. Three broad dimensions of questions can be discerned. The first, the definitional, is concerned with the “what question”: what is transparency? The second, the implemental, raises questions over how transparency should be put into practice. The third, the ethical, is the most fundamental of the threedimensions. It asks the “why question”: why should we have transparency? The debate over the objectivesthat transparency is supposed to fulfil relates closely to perceptions of public values, and thereby to thefuture of European governance.
Different explanations are possible for the emergence of transparency
The changing attitude of the Council towards transparency can be understood in terms of institutionallogic. This means that the attitude which the Council has towards transparency is not the result of anobjective assessment of transparency, but is instead determined by the specific way in which it thinks andoperates. The Council’s institutional logic materialises in the discourse and the practice that it develops inthe transparency policy. In this research, a closer look is taken at the changing Council discourse between1992 (Maastricht Treaty) and 2009 (Lisbon Treaty).Change in the transparency discourse is looked at in three ways. First, the role of argumentation isstudied. Various ideas, concepts, and categories that the Council presented allowed for action in certaindirections, while excluding others. A close study of various documents enhances our understanding of change by revealing patterns in the Council’s attitude.