Tuesday 5 May 2009

European elections: Libertas and full disclosure?

Was Libertas’ Convention in Rome a successful exercise in internal democratic procedures and the adoption of a credible political platform ahead of the June 2009 European elections?

Some 29 days from the start of the European elections the policies web page of Libertas offers us the same promise as before:

“The Libertas programme for a better Europe will be published on this site in the coming weeks.”


Full disclosure?

Full disclosure: All EP & Commission expenses must be published, is the second core principle of Libertas.

A great sound bite, but what does it mean?


Expenses only?

Freedom of information and public scrutiny are wide and fundamental issues.

The material scope of Libertas’ call seems unduly restrictive. Expenses are but a minuscule although important part of EU documents important for accountability and openness.

Later today the European Parliament is going to give its final vote on the Cashman report, more exactly Regulation (EC) No .../2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (recast), based on the preliminary EP vote 11 March 2009 (resolution P6_TA-PROV(2009)0114).

Knowing that there are differences between the EU institutions, a responsible European level political party should have a clear policy on the access to documents as a whole, not only a detail.

In general terms, the European Parliament came out in favour of transparency. Amendment 85 on Article 13 offers the basic rule on financial transparency:

Article 13
Financial transparency

Information relating to the EU budget, its implementation and beneficiaries of EU funds and grants shall be public and accessible to citizens.

Such information shall also be accessible via a specific website and database, searchable on the basis of the above information, dealing with financial transparency in the EU.


It is true that a majority of the European Parliament voted for Amendment 116 to exempt documents of MEPs from the scope of the Regulation, as stated in point 23 of the Preamble. I assume that Libertas would have voted with the ALDE group against this exemption and will do so if the saga continues during the next parliamentary term:

(23) Article 4 of the Statute for Members of the European Parliament excludes the documents of Members of the European Parliament from the scope of the definition of "document" used in this Regulation. These documents, when transmitted to the institutions outside the legislative process, are still protected by Article 6 of the Members´ Statute. Therefore the interpretation of this Regulation should take due account of the protection of the political activities of Members of the European Parliament, as enshrined in the Members" Statute in order to protect the democratic principles of the European Union. [Am 116]


Institutions concerned?

I wonder why Libertas targets only the European Parliament and the Commission.

Why does Libertas’ slogan leave out the Council and the Agencies and bodies of the European Union, which the European Parliament wants to include in the Regulation on public access to documents?


Admittedly, billboard phrases cannot cover every detail, but they should be crafted considering the underlying facts and given more detailed explanations elsewhere.

The Golden rule tells us to apply the same standards to ourselves as we demand from others.

Constructive criticism should be countered, not by invective, but by improved action and reasoned discussion. We are waiting for Libertas to start showing positive signs.

Ralf Grahn

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