THE European Union took a small step forward yesterday in making its proceedings more transparent to the general public. Part of the discussions at the EU finance ministers' meeting in Brussels could be seen and heard live on the internet, starting at 10am Brussels time. The first item on the agenda was a discussion of the economic and financial work programme proposed by the Finnish government for its sixth-month presidency of the EU; this was followed by a debate on the work of the European Investnment Bank. Welcome though this development may be, it is a very small step forward indeed towards making the EU a more open and understandable organisation. After the two agenda items already mentioned the finance ministers went into closed session for the rest of the meeting. The problem is that the agreement to open ministerial discussions to public scrutiny applies only to subjects which are anyway due to be debated in the European Parliament. The more sensitive topics which ministers keep for themselves will remain unseen, at least for the moment. The EU has a huge job to make itself better known to its citizens and it cannot be said that thus far it has shown any flair in tackling what is a difficult and sensitive task. Individual member states do not help by preventing the EU from undertaking publicity or public relations in their countries. The internet with its international reach may have an important role in this task in the future.
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