29 de juny, 2007

Improving transparency in the Union

Ensuring transparency in the EU is essential to a pluralist democracy and helps to overcome the Union’s “democratic deficit”, European Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros told an EPC Breakfast Policy Briefing. The EU’s institutions have made real progress on this issue since the early 1990s, but there is still room for improvement. Greater attention should also be paid to the issue of transparency on EU-related matters at the Member State level.

European Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros said transparency was a central issue for his office as more than 25% of all the complaints it receives concern alleged failures by the EU institutions to give access to documents or provide information, or a lack of openness in how they operate.

Transparency is essential to a pluralist democracy, said Mr Diamandouros, because it ensures that citizens have enough information to be able to participate in the political process. It requires public authorities to be proactive in publishing information about what they do and to react promptly to give people access to documents when requested.

Transparency is based on a legal framework which stresses that people have a right to information about what their governments are doing - an approach which reflects the influence of the EU’s Nordic members: Finland and Sweden, which have always considered this important.

The European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour requires that information is provided when requested, and both the Council and the European Commission have stressed transparency in their own staff codes.

However, in most EU Member States, the public only has a legal right to information if they can persuade the authorities that they have a special interest in obtaining it, for example to use it to support their case in a dispute. The Ombudsman’s office disagrees with this, believing that every citizen should have the right to official information, without having to give reasons, except in special circumstances, such as where it might threaten security.

Mr Diamandouros said the status quo should be reversed so that the burden of proof is on the Member State’s authorities to explain why they rejected the request.

Font European Policy Center


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