It is true: The EU is, in some regards, more transparent than some of its member states. However, information is hard to find unless you are an EU expert. There is also no established culture of transparency throughout the EU institutions and all their EU officials. This makes it harder for civil society to hold the EU accountable and to fight corruption.
This sort of transparency is not enough given the lack of trust EU citizens show towards the Union’s institutions and given the complexity of EU politics where even more pro-active transparency was needed to make the real course of decision-making accessible and understandable to citizens and civil society.
And these were issues discussed in an EU Ombudsman seminar organised in co-operation with the Transparency International EU office today in the EU Parliament to celebrate the International Right to Know Day.
Jana Mittermaier from our office spoke about EU member states’ freedom of information cultures and their impact on the EU level. I’ve prepared a discussion paper on this topic for the participants that you can also download here, concluding that those member states with a weak access to information culture seem to dominate, in particular in the EU Council.
Special thanks go to the colleagues of Access Info who provided us with preview data from their soon-to-be published study on access to documents requests they have done all across the EU, which we could use to make a stronger case during our presentation. The Ombudsman and the audience seemed to be very interested and we are looking forward to the day the study will be published!
Other speakers on the panel were Christian Linder from Commissioner Sefcovic’ Cabinet, who made very clear that for the Commission transparency is just one of many issues they have to balance, highlighting issues such as data protection, international negotiation strategies or questions of lack of staff to deal with access to documents requests as reasons for not being more transparent, something that was partially contested by the EU Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros. I personally was kind of disappointed by this position voiced by Lindner, showing that transparency doesn’t seem to be priority for the Commission.
Lindner also announced that the joint EU lobby register of EU Commission and Parliament will not be mandatory, despite requests from civil society including us (see our press release) or ALTER-EU, for whom Olivier Hoedemann was speaking, to make it mandatory. Olivier finally also pointing to issues such as problems with the present lobby register, lack of transparency and balance of EU Commission expert groups, and Commissioners going through revolving doors.
Altogether, this was a really good event with an open discussion both on the panel and with the audience. It was also another reminder that we as civil society have to fight hard to make the EU institutions more transparent and accountable. And we need to strengthen and support those like the Ombudsman who are trying to bring that change from within.