"Secrecy and Openness in the European Union"
01 October 2002
Today, October 1, 2002, freedominfo.org announces the Web publication of its newest case study in the worldwide struggle for openness and freedom of information - in this case, the decade-long effort to open the structures of the European Union (EU). Authored by Tony Bunyan of the London-based NGO, Statewatch, the study starts with the December 1993 code of access to EU documents and covers every major development up through the June 2002 requirement of public registers - with which the European Commission is still not in compliance today.
Bunyan describes the important leadership role taken by a handful of EU governments, led by Denmark and Sweden and sometimes backed by the Netherlands, Finland and the UK, in the face of strong opposition from the forces of secrecy led by France and backed by Spain and Germany. On one particularly contentious openness question in 1996, nine EU states lined up for secrecy: France, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Austria and Greece.
Key to the progress to date has been the external challenges from civil society (journalists, researchers, and voluntary groups), backed by liberal judges and a diligent EU ombudsman. The current compromise Regulation, in force since December 2001, has opened new battlegrounds. While much more EU information is now available, especially from the EU Council, thousands of documents do not appear on the required registers. In addition, NATO is pressuring the EU to comply with NATO secrecy procedures left over from the Cold War; and the areas of law enforcement and immigration are particularly susceptible to increased secrecy in an official climate dominated by counter-terrorism.
The virtual network freedominfo.org, funded by the Open Society Institute and hosted by staff of the George Washington University's National Security Archive, is a one-stop portal that describes best practices, consolidates lessons learned, explains campaign strategies and tactics, and links the efforts of freedom of information advocates around the world.
A Summary of the case study, with links to the full report, is available here:
In the introduction Tony Bunyan comments:
"Democracy and democratic standards are not static, they are ever changing. While governments and ministers may, or may not, be open and transparent democracy cannot rely on them. Rather it is sustained by lively parliaments and an ever vigilant and critical civil society.
The fight for openness, freedom of information, and against secrecy in the EU is a small, but indispensable contribution to the maintenance of democratic standards"