Living transparency: The development of access to documents in the Council of the EU and its democratic implications

Maarten Zbigniew Hillebrandt

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


In and around the Council of the European Union all agree on the need for transparency in order for it function democratically. Twenty-five years after the introduction of a transparency policy different sides however disagree about the extent to which such transparency has in fact been achieved. One account, that of ‘advancing transparency’, holds that Council transparency has increased considerably and today approximates democratic standards. A second account, that of ‘captive transparency’, casts doubt on this narrative. This dissertation provides a detailed exploration of the evidence for both accounts, by comparing the manner in which transparency policy developed in three of the Council’s policy formations: those of Environment, Economic and Financial Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. The study’s empirical analysis finds that, beyond certain basic similarities, transparency in these formations developed in an increasingly dissimilar manner over time, both with regard to the content of the rule framework governing access and its interpretation and implementation. Although Council-wide, the development of legislative transparency began to take precedence over time, transparency policy in the non-legislative sphere developed along more sector-specific lines, frequently with transparency-undermining results. When evaluated normatively, the Council’s current access to documents policy is marked by several shortcomings that suggest the Council’s negligent attitude towards democratic issues. However, although transparency still has a long way to go to fulfil its democratic promise, the study also clearly shows that normatively realistic improvement is possible.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Amsterdam Center for European Law and Governance (ACELG)
  • Curtin, Deirdre, Supervisor, External person
  • Meijer, Albert, Supervisor, External person
Award date10 Mar 2017
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Electronic ISBNs978-94-028-0532-1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Fields of Science

  • 513 Law

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