The decision by the European Parliament’s Bureau to put “all data” regarding attendance of MEPs in plenary and committee meetings was timed perfectly, coinciding with the closure of independent web resource How MEPs Work which fulfilled the same function until financial problems forced its closure.

Visiting the site returns the message “Project offline”.

The report, put forward by Italian MEP Marco Cappato of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, aims to make information on attendance available to the public through the Parliament’s website before the 2009 election.

Cappato’s report said that, “Accessing information relating to the EU institutions still remains an obstacle-strewn path for ordinary citizens, due to the lack of an effective citizen-oriented inter-institutional policy of transparency and communication.”

An article on Schuman Square suggests The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee may not not have passed the measure with such a majority had they read the fine print closely. 

 In addition to the attendance figures mentioned in the Euractiv article, Shuman Square reports that disclosure “Would include their participation in roll call votes,” and would be “Searchable by the MEP’s name, plenary, committee, delegation, vote, day or term.”

Reading the report I notice it also calls for information to be made available on MEPs allowances, spending and financial interests, and for National Parliaments and elected bodies to be invited to do the same “by establishing a Register of parliaments’ and parliamentarians’ activities”

This is an opportunity to throw some light on the inner workings of the EU, on the activities of MEPs and go some way towards encouraging transparency in member states. Cappato is right, there can be no real Democracy without transparency. If this measure makes it through the Plenary it can only improve the credibility of MEPs and the European Parliament, much as the excellent They Work for You has for MPs in Britain.

 The idea has its critics, Euractiv quoted Statewatch Editor Tony Bunyan’s response:  

“Under the Commission’s proposal, only the final document would be a “document”. All the draft proposal documents would not be ‘documents’, which means that all the changes, options, discussions would be secret and hidden from public view and scrutiny. The lifeblood of a democracy is the ability of parliaments, civil society and citizens to know what is being discussed and to make their views known before the final ‘document’ is set in stone.”

Mr. Bunyan is right to point out the shortcomings, but in practice the majority of voters will only dig so deep. A list of final votes should be fit for purpose in the run up to the June election, after which further transparency can be sought.  Cappato makes this aim clear in the report, which states, “The EU institutions should now take further steps towards greater transparency, openness and democracy by moving towards an “EU Freedom of Information Act”.  

The move was welcomed by London’s Green Party MEP Jean Lambert who said that generally attendance was a good sign of engagement.

“I’m willing to bet,” she said, “That when that info comes out there will be people who hardly ever set foot in the place.”

Discussing the usefulness of attendance figures in measuring an MEP’s engagement James Stevens posted the following on Jon Worth’s blog.

 “Plenary attendance is indeed a very crude measure of MEP effectiveness and in some cases probably more related to collecting daily allowances than anything else.”