Reactions in the Finnish press to Mr Prodi's attack on Mr Soderman

THE INFORMATION OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN FINLAND

Press review, Tuesday 14 March 2000

Articles about the attack by the President of the European Commission President Romano Prodi against the European Ombudsman Jacob S÷derman still dominate many newspapers today. Aamulehti (Tampere, 134 000), Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki, 454 700), Hufvudstadsbladet (Helsinki, 58 900), Iltalehti (Helsinki, 119 900), Turun Sanomat (Turku, 114 700) and Uutislehti 100 (Helsinki, 100 000) write about the topic.

Aamulehti writes that the British journalist Tony Bunyan, who has been working for openness in the EU for years, defends the European Ombudsman Jacob Soderman in his dispute with the President of the Commission, Mr Romano Prodi. Mr Bunyan has published Mr Prodi s letter to the European Parliament in the Internet pages of his Statewatch-newspaper. Aamulehti tells that the contents of Mr Prodi s letter shows that Mr Prodi would have wished Mr Soderman to express his comments "in a confidential way" and not in public in the newspapers. Besides making Mr Prodi s letter public Mr Bunyan has collected into the Statewatch website different stages of the Commission's proposal as well as debate on it. On the basis of this information it is evident that the proposal was not prepared in the spirit of openness, which is what Mr Prodi has claimed in his letter and in his article in the Wall Street Journal Europe. "The claim that there was discussion among citizens before the Commission gave its draft regulation in January is wrong. That was drafted in secrecy and it became public only because it was leaked to Statewatch and we put it in the Internet", Mr Bunyan says. He describes Mr Prodi s behaviour in the matter "irresponsible". He reminds that the Ombudsman works independent of the other EU organs and the Ombudsman is an official elected directly by the European Parliament.

Aamulehti tells that Mr Prodi s letter has caused attention not only because of its strict tone but also because the President said that he spoke also in the name of the other Commissioners. Mr Per Haugaard, Commissioner Erkki Liikanen's spokesman, said on Monday to Aamulehti that it is Mr Prodi s right to speak in the name of the whole Commission in matters like this. A formal decision of 20 Commissioners is not needed for that. "I do not know about any formal discussion about the topic. Unofficially it might have been discussed of course", Mr Haugaard said.

Hufvudstadsbladet and Iltalehti tell that MEP Riitta Myller (PSE) is surprised at Mr Prodi s reaction against Mr Soderman s work. "Mr Soderman has criticised the Commission proposal for weeks. I can not understand why Mr Prodi blew the top just now", Ms Myller says. Ms Myller adds that Mr Soderman is just doing his job when criticising the Commission's proposal for regulation on public access to documents because it is the Ombudsman duty to supervise the EU institutions and pursue for good administrative practices.

 

Helsingin Sanomat writes in its editorial that fight for transparency in the European Union got a surprising turn when Mr Romano Prodi, the President of the Commission fired fully against the European Ombudsman Jacob Soderman. At the same time the dispute strengthens the fears that the battle between the administrative cultures of the Southern and Northern Member States will be long and complicated. The way Mr Prodi has acted increases critical estimates about his abilities to take care of the demanding position as President of the Commission. The attack against the independence of the Ombudsman does not show much judgement. The Commission's proposal will be now discussed in the Council of Ministers and in the Parliament. They should finish their work before April next year. The Countries and MEPs who demand more openness should stick to demands for changes because transparency is a fatal issue for the future of the EU; the Union's credibility and legitimacy hang in the balance. A considerable part of citizens can not accept the system which is based on secrecy * how pleasant it may be for the bureaucrats who are used to working without taking other people's opinions into consideration. It is important to remember that transparency would have prevented the malpractices which forced the former Commission to resign.

Hufvudstadsbladet writes in an editorial that the European Ombudsman Jacob Soderman is right when he sees something positive in what has happened. It gives him a chance to make the functions of the European Ombudsman clear also to the President of the Commission who does not have experience of an ombudsman in his home country. But above all it gives to Mr Soderman a chance to be heard in the Bureau of the Parliament and to work for transparency. It is most important though that the citizens can see better everything that takes place in the EU. And already when the decisions are being prepared, not only when they have already been made. That is called democracy, the Commission President Romano Prodi, the paper writes.

Turun Sanomat writes in its editorial that Mr Prodi s letter has now raised a lively discussion about the Commission's proposal on public access to documents, which must be good. The debate on the proposal will be more profound and many-sided. The discussion might influence the final outcome of the proposal just the opposite way than what Mr Prodi seems to wish, the paper adds.

Aamulehti, Hufvudstadsbladet, Turun Sanomat and Uutislehti 100 report that the Chairmen of the political groups of the European Parliament will invite European Ombudsman Jacob Soderman to report on the dispute about access to documents. The chairmen want to hear Mr Soderman s opinion about the Commission's proposal. The exact date for the meeting has not been decided yet.