Press review, Monday 13, Sunday 12 and Saturday 11 March 2000

The attack by the President of the European Commission Mr Romano Prodi against the European Ombudsman Mr Jacob Soderman dominates most of the newpapers. Aamulehti (Tampere, 134 000), Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki, 454 700), Hufvudstadsbladet (Helsinki, 58 900), Keskisuomalainen (Jyvõskylõ, 76 300) and Turun Sanomat (Turku, 114 700) report on the topic.

Helsingin Sanomat writes that President of the European Commission, Mr Romano Prodi criticises the European Ombudsman Mr Jacob Soderman very strongly. In a letter sent to the Speaker of the European Parliament he criticises Mr Soderman s opinions as being harmful to the EU institutions and questions Mr Soderman s skills. Mr Prodi says that Mr Soderman has gone too far as he criticized the Commission s plans to reform openness and publicity policies.

According to the newspaper Mr Soderman was surprised about the criticism. He said: "I have been working with the openness and publicity questions since the 1960 s and therefore one should not suspect my skills that much." He adds that "Also criticising the faults is openness and that is what I have done. One expected so much from the Commission s proposal for openness and the report was a big disappointment."

According to Mr Soderman it would have been better, if Mr Prodi had not sent his letter to the European Parliament. Mr Soderman says that the newspaper articles would have served public discussion well enough. He reminds that "an absolute majority of the complaints, which the Ombudsman has received during the past five years have concerned especially openness and access to documents."

MEP Heidi Hautala (VERTS/ALE) says that the Chairmen of the Parliament s political groups took Mr Prodi s letter very seriously, when they discussed it on Thursday evening in Brussels. "I find it alarming that there is still the old atmosphere in the Commission: one does not want to tolerate different opinions and discussion about the Commission s proposals", Ms Hautala says.

Aamulehti writes that Mr Soderman responds to the criticism: "It is no use to threaten me. I am not afraid. Freedom of speech is the fundamental right of European citizens and that is what I defend.

Hufvudstadsbladet reports that according to Mr Soderman an open discussion is a part of concept of openness and discussion is therefore welcome. "It is a poor sign that Mr Prodi got annoyed. He himself has spoken positively about openness. There is though an old culture in the Commission which dislikes open discussion", Mr Soderman says.

Aamulehti tells that Mr Prodi expresses in his letter the concern of the "whole Commission" that Mr Soderman is using his powers in a questionable way. MEP Heidi Hautala (VERTS/ALE) believes that the decision has been made in a smaller circle than the whole Commission. "It is difficult to believe that all the Commissioners would have taken the same stand than Mr Prodi", Ms Hautala says. She wonders why Mr Prodi is so nervous. "The administrative culture does not change very easily, but the President of the Commission has to accept that things are spoken so that everybody can hear."

MEP Ilkka Suominen (PPE/DE) says that "Mr Soderman s criticism seems very justified and the Parliament will support him for sure. The Ombudsman has not exceeded his powers".Mr Suominen adds that "Mr Prodi has got angry for a wrong reason. I do not understand why the Commission s plans to increase opennes in the EU are so secret that one can not even criticise them in public. If the Commission will not increase its openness the Commission s credibility becomes questionable again. This is one reason for Mr Prodi s reaction", Mr Suominen considers.

Turun Sanomat reports that the Finnish Members of the European Parliament support Soderman. The paper says that Finnish MEPs do not understand Mr Prodi s reaction. According to MEP Riitta Myller (PSE) Mr Soderman as the Ombudsman has the right to say what he thinks is best. She estimates that behind Mr Prodi s reaction there is a human reaction that his feelings have been hurt. MEP Ilkka Suominen (PPE/DE) says that "Mr Prodi criticises Mr Soderman for too much emotionalism but it seems that this quality suits Mr Prodi better. Mr Soderman is the representative of the citizens and he must have the right to speak out his opinions." MEP Astrid Thors (ELDR) says that it is strange that the Commission President's letter criticises public debate. Ms Thors has actively taken part in the debate about transparency.

Helsingin Sanomat publishes an article with a headline "Open war about openness" by its Brussels correspondent Mr Jouni M÷lsõ. He writes that Mr Prodi s letter seems to say that the Commission is ready to reform as long as it can itself tell how to reform. It tells also about unpleasant administration culture. "A European Soviet Union can be constructed, if the politicians want it. But do the EU citizens want it?"

Aamulehti publishes a column by its editor Mr Matti Morttinen about the same topic with the headline: "Uncle Prodi talks rubbish again". Mr Morttinen writes that the Commission President Romano Prodi s attack against the Ombudsman Jacob S÷derman is "uncommon and surprisingly strong". Mr Prodi simply asks the European Parliament and the Court of Justice to sack the European Ombudsman. He himself does not have a mandate to do it. Mr Soderman has shot out truths about the leading bureaucrats in the EU very freely and therefore a clash on a high level could not be avoided. It might be good for the whole Union that the laundry is washed now properly and in public.

Iltalehti writes in its editorial that the Commission proposal that things in the EU are public if they are not announced to be secret is too flexible. "Citizens are already now suspicious about Brussels s faceless bureaucracy. Strengthening citizens confidence is a vital necessity of the EU s all other development. This means that real openness and free debate is needed."

Keskisuomalainen writes in an editorial that the politicians try to silence the European Ombudsman. The political machinery of the EU is trying to place itself above and over all criticism. This opens an alarming landscape against which the Nordic countries have to fight with all means.