Citizens deserve better


Is it the Nordics against the Southerners in the fight for more transparency in the EU? Is it old-fashioned bureaucracy against modern administration? Is it power structures against the citizens?

The fight for more transparency in the EU seems stuck after the Danish presidency gave up on finding a solution for new access to documents rules, among connoisseurs known as 1049/01.

Finnish MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki in a comment on Wobbing.eu sums it up like this:

The Danish Presidency lacked a real political will to push the revision forward this spring. It was not the Presidency’s political priority at all.

The Commission kept its negative attitude in the negotiations. It was not willing to try to find real compromises. It did not move even one centimeter forward in the negotiations. Instead, it was just requiring more restrictions and exceptions.

The European Parliament negotiating team lead by Rapporteur Michael Cashman was working hard in order to find an agreement. It was ready to compromise but not to take steps backwards in the name of transparency.

Jäätteenmäki argues, that after the collapse of the negotiations under the Danish presidency, the European Parliament should go ahead with an initiative and introduce more openness on the lawmaking procedure. She suggests making public all votes in the committees and plenaries, making public the minutes of the coordinators meetings, and making public the documents from the trialogue meetings.

These are excellent first steps – but aren’t they self-evident in a modern democracy? Good wind, as the wish goes in a sailing nation like Denmark, to the suggestions of Ms. Jäätteenmäki!

This would be a big step in the proactive openness within the EU. However it does not solve the problem of the stranded 1049 reform lingering in legislative nowhere-land. And it does not solve the obstacles or even obstructions to transparency, that journalists and citizens experience on an every day level: access to documents requests that are not answered, access to documents requests that are delayed and delayed again, access to documents requests where existing documents allegedly are not available. This combined with a comparably slow and potentially costly procedure to complain must discourage most of the citizens and many of the time-pressured journalists.

In whose interest?

“Citizens deserve better” writes Jäätteenmäki in her open letter. And in May 2012 two other Nordics, the ministers of Justice of Sweden and Finland, appealed to find “True Friends of Transparency” in another open letter published at Wobbing.eu.

So this must be the time to start over again. Citizens do indeed deserve better. Time to start from scratch with a bill that fulfils the Lisbon Treaty’s requirement for more transparency, includes best practice from open countries such as the Nordics and the United Kingdom, includes experience from those, who actually use the legislation on behalf of the citizens and in favour of transparency such as NGOs, lawyers and journalists.

We are, of course, looking forward to the European Parliament to improve its own practices. But we – the journalists on behalf of our readers, listeners and viewers – also hope for the European Parliament to call upon the Commission to write up a new, acceptable draft for the reform of 1049/01 and from the very beginning of the procedure to include the relevant users of the law.

In the meantime – and in the future – the task is also with the citizens and the journalists on their behalf. Because transparency belongs to us all. It’s not citizens against bureaucrats. It’s about taking care of our democracy: Transparency is a task for all of us!