Trilogues: the system that undermines EU democracy and transparency

By EDRi · April 20, 2016

Most of the legislation of the European Union (EU) is today adopted using an informal, non-democratic, non-accountable and non-transparent process. This mechanism is known in the EU bubble as “trilogues” or “trialogues”. Trilogues are a set of informal negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission to fast-track legislation, with a view to reaching early agreements on legislation.

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The EU body in charge of fighting against maladministration, the European Ombudsman, decided to open an investigation to assess the need for a trilogues reform. As part of this inquiry, she opened a consultation to ask the public about its opinion and experience regarding the transparency of trilogues. On 31 March, EDRi submitted its response, where we ask for an urgent reform of trilogues, echoing the concerns voiced by an open joint civil society letter sent to the three institutions.

Trilogue negotiations are worrisome mainly because

  • only a very limited number of participants negotiate for over 500 Million of people and their names are usually not disclosed;
  • negotiations are conducted behind closed doors;
  • trilogue documents are not released to the public as a general rule;
  • access to trilogue documents is often denied, as evidenced in EDRi’s freedom of information requests for the trilogue documents of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation (the regulation dealing with net neutrality in the EU), for example;
  • trilogues are subject to undue and undisclosed external pressure. Lobbyists can get an insight of trilogue negotiations if they become friendly with the negotiators. What about the general public? Wouldn’t you like to also have access to documents that will likely affect your life?;
  • trilogues profoundly undermine and weaken the position of the only directly democratically-elected institution in the EU, the European Parliament;
  • the process strips the decision-making process of accountability, because secrecy hides how the agreements are reached.

A reform of trilogues should seek to solve these problems. In our response, EDRi emphasises that this would not only benefit EU law-making, but would also contribute to have greater legitimacy, integrity, accountability and scrutiny of the legislative work the EU institutions are conducting.

We eagerly look forward to see the results of the consultation and the European Ombudsman’s recommendations to end unaccountable, undemocratic and non-transparent law-making in the EU. EDRi and 19 other civil society organisations are still waiting for the Council of the European Union to respond to the letter sent to the Commission, Parliament and Council in September 2015. So far, only the European Commission and the Parliament have responded, albeit unsatisfactorily. The Council is the least transparent of the three. Stay tuned for new developments.

EDRi’s response to the European Ombudsman’s public consultation on the transparency of trilogues (31.03.2016)

EDRi: Civil society calls for reform of trialogues in a letter to EU Commission, Parliament and Council (30.09.2015)

EDRi: Better Regulation Interinstitutional Agreement – we have concerns! (21.12.2015)

(Contribution by Maryant Fernández Pérez, EDRi)