Press review, Friday 24 March 2000

Hufvudstadsbladet reports on its front-page that "Soderman gets no support from President Fontaine". The paper writes that the President of the European Parliament, Ms Nicole Fontaine does not support the European Ombudsman, Mr Jacob Soderman, in his pursuit of public debate about the openness of the EU. In the interview by Hufvudstadsbladet in Lisbon, Ms Fontaine said Mr Soderman should have gone directly to Mr Prodi with his criticism of the Commission's proposal for transparency regulation. Ms Fontaine thinks Mr Soderman has chosen the wrong form for this kind of debate on an important subject by using the press, and it doesn't help to strengthen the co-operation between the institutions. Ms Fontaine doesn't want any more letters, she thinks now it is time to continue working. "I have invited Mr Soderman to the Conference of Presidents, where this question will be handled. Mr Soderman's opinions and ideas are very welcome," Ms Fontaine said according to Hufvudstadsbladet.

Hufvudstadsbladet comments the interview in its editorial by Bjorn Mansson. Mr Mansson writes: "Because of many reasons people would have thought Ms Fontaine to be loyal to Mr. Soderman instead of Mr. Prodi. Firstly, the European Parliament has for a long time shared Mr. Soderman's views about the need for greater openness in the EU. Secondly, Mr Soderman has been elected by the Parliament, so it would be natural to expect support from the President of the Parliament. Thirdly, the integrity of the European Parliament is also at stake. Does the European Ombudsman have the right to express criticism freely in public or not? Yesterday Nicole Fontaine gave a reason for disappointment. She said in a French diplomatic way that she did not want to criticise Mr Soderman's culture - but does it anyway. Fontaine joins together with those who think that the question of greater openness must not be debated in public. This is absurd." Mr Mansson continues: "The reasons Fontaine mentions show that she is not loyal at the first hand to the subject itself, greater openness and better transparency to EU's decision processes, nor to the Parliament's and its Ombudsman's right to defend its integrity against other EU-institutions. Instead she gives her solidarity to the South-European culture, both with respect to the Ombudsman's right to criticise in public and to citizens right of control. It is once again a question of a conflict between cultures, and Ms Fontaine sticks to the administrative culture which prevails in her own home country as well as Mr Prodi's, at the expense of loyalty to the institution she represents and is elected to lead", Mr Mansson writes.