The proposal is presented as a bold, practical step to seize the EU reform agenda away from the often arcane issues of voting procedures and the relative influence of the institutions, onto more tangible ideas that the public can relate to. The issue of the closed meetings of the Council of Ministers has long been seized by many on as an example of the EU's undemocratic, paternalistic and opaque nature. This perception is partly true since the Council has elements of a cabinet government - which is closed - and of a legislature, where debate is always open in Western democracies. But the proposal also suits both Mr Blair and Mr Schr?der, who share many ideas on the way the EU should operates - especially once enlargement is completed and the membership surges - and take easily to the image of Europe's reformers. They have both called for the EU's leaders to reconnect with the wider public who see the institutions as obscure and incomprehensible.The letter points out the commitment to improved transparency in decision-making and democratic accountability in last December's Laeken Declaration. "We believe that both objectives would be furthered by holding Council meetings in public when the Council is acting in its role as legislator", it says, while not specifying exactly how the Council distinguish between legislative and non-legislative debates. Council discussions on executive and foreign and security matters should remain private, it adds, and the confidentiality of European Council discussions should be restored.It also suggests ending the 'tour de table' tradition. "Much time might be saved for example by asking delegations to provide Council colleagues with a short (1-2 page) summary of their position as a basis for discussion. Interventions would then only be necessary from those Member States with specific points to make." In any case, after enlargement to up to 27 Member States such a practice would leave little time for actual negotiation, it says.The letter says the European Council (of Heads and State or Government) plays a key role in providing the EU with "strategic direction and a clear sense of purpose". With enlargement and "increasingly complex global issues", it says the EU needs to "maximise the efficient use of European Council time", keeping the agenda focused on key priorities. "For example, we should avoid European Council meetings becoming bogged down in dealing with specific dossiers simply because the relevant...

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