Raise the blinds on Brussels

29 May 2009

Raise the blinds on Brussels

SP number one candidate Dennis de Jong took up window-cleaning, running his chamois leather over the windows of the building occupied by the representatives of the European Commission in the Netherlands. Dennis's new job was meant as a symbol of the need for more transparency in Brussels. "It makes it impossible for journalists and the public to keep an eye on what is going on there when procedures are so difficult and so expensive that only major corporations can access information," says De Jong. "Even voting figures in the European Parliament aren't always accessible, so you can have difficulty finding out how Dutch MEPs have voted." In contrast to the system in the Netherlands, members of the public must ask for a specific document in order to find information.

The SP handed out cleaning cloths to passers-by along with a 10-point plan for more transparency in Brussels. Major aspects of the plan include a demand that information on administrative matters should be free to citizens and that the European ombudsman given access to all information emanating from EU institutions. As Dennis de Jong put it, "Brussels keeps the blinds closed - and in my view the windows themselves need a good cleaning."

Candidate Rein van Gisteren explains the 10-point plan

Below is a summary of the 10-point plan:

  1. More powers for the European Ombudsman: he or she must have access to all archives, offices and hard disks of EU institutions
  2. Anyone putting a question must receive an answer, and access to data must be made easier. Anyone requesting information in Brussels must, as things stand, know the precise document where the information can be found. Specifying the subject area should be enough.
  3. Brussels should not be allowed to define what constitutes a public document. An EU document only becomes a 'document' when Brussels decides to call it one. This practice must stop.
  4. EU openness must not be confined to professionals and corporations. Information must be easily accessible.
  5. Clarity over what constitutes EU information, and what does not. Looking for information on the Internet you can find yourself lost in a jumble of 'European' sites. By using EU symbols, logos, the EU's blue-and-yellow colours, and photos of EU officials, corporations give their sites an 'official' hue. A way must be found to make it clear what is official EU information and what not.
  6. Proposals must be available in all languages before decisions are taken. Essential information is often not immediately available in one's own language, but only after a policy is confirmed, by which time it is impossible for the public to have any influence over it.
  7. Openness over voting. The full official results of votes at the European Parliament are accessible only to professionals, making it hard for ordinary citizens to find out how their representatives have voted.
  8. Information must at all times be free-of-charge to citizens.
  9. Transparency, for 'sensitive' documents in particular. These contain the most significant information. The UN, for example, is much more transparent than the EU in this respect. Too many reasons are given for why a document is 'sensitive' and should therefore not be made public - 'undermining' not only of international relations, but also of economic, financial and monetary policies amongst them.
  10. The courts should have the last word when such access is refused.

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