Transparency and democracy in the EU

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in the world’s first Open Knowledge Festival. I am also happy to see this event taking place in Helsinki with an international audience.

Open knowledge is close to my heart. Since 2004, I have been working to increase transparency and access to information in the European Union.

Today, I would like to share with you two cases which show lack of transparency and information in the EU. Secondly, I would like to tell a good example of how the ordinary citizens can make a difference in the EU.

Currently, in the European Parliament, I am responsible for the proposals related to public access to EU documents and to good administration. I will tell you briefly about the first one.

The current legislation concerning public access to EU documents dates back to 2001. At that time, it was a remarkable step forward for increased transparency.

A political system can be legitimate only if the citizens trust it. If the citizens are unable to obtain information on what has been decided, who has made the decisions, and on what premises, there is no trust.

Transparency in law-making is extremely important for the legitimacy of the political system. If people are told that “we made the decision on the basis of a legal opinion, but we will not publish the opinion, because you could get wrong ideas”, there will certainly be a democratic deficit.

In 2008, Commission proposed a revision to the 2001 legislation, and that is still not agreed on. It is unfortunately a step backwards in transparency.

Both the Commission and the Council (of the EU member states) are trying to prevent public, including the European Parliament, obtaining information. Council fears that increased information could lead to doubts about the lawfulness of their decisions.

Maybe it would have been better if the Council opinion was not accessible to the public. It sounds very arrogant as it calls the European citizens “outsiders”.

Another example, I would like tell, is from the European Parliament.
In 2008, we established a lobby register. When writing the legislation, I promoted the introduction of a so-called ”legislative footprint”. The footprint would have shown a list of lobbyists who have been consulted during the preparation of Parliament’s reports.

Many conservative members of the Parliament were against the idea. When asking for the reason, one of my colleagues told that the proposal was insane, as the footprint would force them also to listen to those people with whom they do not agree.

According to my understanding all the stakeholders have the right to be heard when new legislation is being prepared. Whether we agree with them, or not.

The end result was that the legislative footprint became optional rather than obligatory, but I will continue to work to make it obligatory for future reports.

Finally, I would also like to share with you a good example of how the ordinary citizens can make a difference in the EU.

Last autumn and this spring, we received thousands of emails from citizens concerning the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. One of the concerns was that it had been secretly negotiated. The European Parliament took these concerns seriously, and rejected the ACTA in July.

This was a real victory for the direct democracy, transparency, and open knowledge in Europe.

It was the first time that the European Parliament exercised its powers given in the Lisbon Treaty to reject an international trade agreement.

Thank you for letting me share my views. I would also be happy to hear your comments and ideas.

I wish you the very best and productive continuation of the Festival. Let’s work together to make Europe more open and transparent.

Speech given in Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki on 20 September 2012