May 2000

EU openness aided by public dispute

The promotion of openness of EU decision making was helped by the dispute that raged earlier this spring between European Commission President Romano Prodi and the European Ombudsman Jacob Söderman. This is Söderman’s conclusion in an interview published in the Finnish journalists’ union paper Journalisti (20 April 2000).

Söderman, who earlier worked as Parliamentary Ombudsman in Finland, says that the dispute was positive proof of wide interest in the question of openness.

"The dispute was good for the cause because now the issue has progressed to debate about the content of the directive [on openness]”, the Ombudsman said in the interview.

Söderman thinks that the question will be dealt in the Committee of Citizens’ Rights. He has had discussions about the matter with the British MEP, Michael Cashman, who is writing a report on it. According to Söderman, Cashman won’t be able to finish the report before the end of the year. The decree will thus be finalised early next year during the Swedish Presidency. This is seen as an advantage because of Sweden’s positive attitude to openness in decision-making.

The Ombudsman praised Prodi’s decision to put his diary of correspondence on the Internet. Söderman sees this as a courageous decision. People can now see what post the Commission President receives and sends daily. They can ask for documents that are of interest to them.

The earlier dispute between Prodi and Söderman was instigated by an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe where the Ombudsman expressed concern about the progress of openness in the EU. Prodi sent a reply to the paper and an angry letter to the Speaker of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, accusing Söderman of spreading views that are harmful to EU institutions.

Prodi later met the Finnish Ombudsman and restored cordial relations.

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