April 2001

Ombudsman concerned about EU openness

The European Union has not decided what kind of relations it wants to have with European citizens. This is the opinion of the EU Ombudsman Jacob Söderman. In an interview published in the national daily Helsingin Sanomat (11 April 2001), Söderman expresses fears that the much-talked about citizens' Europe will remain words only.

"One should decide whether the citizens are a nuisance or whether they can be useful. Have citizens already feel that they are the EU's enemy?" Söderman asks.

There are areas where the Ombudsman gets the impression that the EU administration is trying to shut citizens out. This manifests itself in the great difficulty of trying to get information from the Union. Söderman compares the EU to a castle.

"The Commission is trying to reform the castle from inside. I think the castle should be opened to the public."

Söderman has noticed some slackening in enthusiasm for openness. When member countries began last summer to plan military crisis management, the question arose of protecting military secrets. This poisoned the whole atmosphere of the discussion about openness.

"It is obvious that there is no point in revealing military secrets to the enemy. 'Sensitive', however, is a very broad term and includes other than military matters.

"It would be credible if when the EU has its new rules on openness, Saddam Hussein could apply for documents about the crisis management forces and he would be able to obtain them."

Member countries are so divided on the issue of openness that it seems to be difficult to reach agreement by the end of the Swedish Presidency at the end of June.

Söderman is also critical of the hierarchical administrative system of the EU. An official cannot grant an interview or write about personal views without the permission of his or her superior.

"Brussels employs the best labour force in Europe and then shuts them up. Officials should be allowed to communicate with citizens in an easier way."

Yesterday (11 April) Söderman was granted a Finnish state award for his efforts to promote openness in Finland and the EU. In the statement from the Ministry of Education, Söderman was said to have strengthened an open atmosphere of communication and to have solidified the principle of openness in administration. He was also commended for trying to ensure the rights of citizens and media to have free access to information.

"His work has represented the best Nordic traditions in creating at the European level models of action which encourage open and critical societal debate", the Ministry said in its statement.

See also:

EU reluctant to be more open

14 March 2001

"EU suppression of criticism smacks of fascism"

10 March 2001

“Co-operation with NATO threat to EU openness”

7 September 2000

Solana dismisses criticism of EU secrecy

15 August 2000

Solana "wrong choice for EU"

14 August 2000

EU openness aided by public dispute

5 May 2000


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