August 10th, 2012
The Cyprus presidency has entered the EU transparency battlefield.
In an earlier post on this blog, I commented how the Danish presidency, in a race against the clock in the final weeks of June, failed to find a compromise on the transparency reform dossier that found sufficient support among both the member states and the European Parliament. (The latter having shown, over the years, much assertiveness in the area of what is known among lawyers as constitutional law, and among political scientists as oversight or meta-regulation.) The Danes failed miserably – its draft proposals for either a medium- and a light-version of a reformed Transparency Regulation were torpedoed and were criticised by transparency-friendly parties as a sell-out.
As of 1 July, Cyprus has taken over the presidency. From the early start, the Cypriots have shown a keenness to revive the talks and to start a fresh search for political compromise. A team under the experienced (and nicely-named) Cypriot senior diplomat Dionysis Dionysiou has enbarked on a new reconnaissance mission in bilateral talks to gauge the temperature among the various parties involved, bothinside among the Council members, and outside among the co-legislating EP and groups from civil society.
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July 19th, 2012
The European Public Sector Information Platform reports the public consultation round that has opened for the Dutch FOI law.
The Dutch FOIA is generally considered fairly good example of a legal provision allowing citizens access to government information. On RTI-rating.org, an organisation that developed criteria to compare national FOIAs, the Netherlands scores in the top-middle range, along with countries such as Sweden and the UK, and above others like France and Denmark. Its acronym, “WOB” has caught on in journalist jargon even beyond the Netherlands: “wobbing” has become a verb signifying the filing of a request for access, and is today the name of a news website devoted to transparency across the EU.
However, the Dutch FOIA is considered a first-generation access law. Compared to many other countries, it misses some of the more innovative and technology-driven arrangements such as online registers of documents and proactive disclosures. The last revision of the Dutch took place over twenty years ago, in 1991.
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July 6th, 2012
Yesterday, Wikileaks announced in a press conference in London that it was ready to commence the leaking of over 2.4 million emails originating from the Syrian regime.
Wikileaks, which specialises in digital leaking of government documents, admitted to not having been able to verify every document separately. However, the NGO added that it was ‘statistically confident that the vast majority of the data are what they purport to be’.
The leaking of the Syrian documents is the largest operation carried out by Wikileaks up until now. The leaking of US diplomatic correspondence in 2010, which has come to be known under the name of “cablegate”, entailed only just over 10% of the amount of documents. Wikileaks said it expected the leak would embarrass both Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad and his adversaries. Meanwhile, its figurehead Julian Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy in London awaiting an application for political asylum.
The leaking of government information has, over the past years, attracted wide attention in the media but it is often overlooked as another form of government transparency (namely externally forced) that. Academics are not universally enthousiastic about the phenomenon of popular transparency. Last year, FOI expert Alasdair Roberts published a critical article on Wikileaks and forced transparency.
In the EU too, leaking continues to be a frequent occurrence. When some time ago the Dutch Senate published a document on its website that had been leaked by civil rights organisation Statewatch, the Commission threatened it with legal action. -MH
Click here to read more about the recent Wikileaks leak
Click here to go to the Syria files on the Wikileaks website
June 14th, 2012
Talks on the revision of the European access to documents regulation have collapsed. The Danish presidency has been unable to reconcile the widely diverging views of parties around the table.
Last week, as the Danish presidency presented a compromise proposal, the atmosphere became particularly vicious. The ministers of justice of Sweden and Finland in an open letter stated that “needless to say” they rejected the Danish proposal and called on the EP to do the same. Days later, a Commission spokesman accused “nutty NGOs” of wasting officials’ time, calling on them to “grow up”. This in turn sparked off a response of indignation from transparency NGOs such as Access Info Europe, which is a longstanding advocate for more transparency in the EU. Over the weekend, talks between the Council and the EP collapsed over widely diverging views on what the reformed regulation should look like. Finally yesterday, the Danish presidency announced officially that it will abondon its efforts to promote the compromise draft.
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June 13th, 2012
On 8 and 9 June the Transatlantic Conference on Transparency Research (TCTR) was held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It was organised by members of the Open Government in the EU research group Albert Meijer and Deirdre Curtin. Researchers came from four continents and presented over 50 papers on all sorts of transparency related issues, ranging from transparency in the EU, to conceptualisation, to accountability, to developing countries. Attendants came from various disciplines, among them public administration, law, political science, psychology, as well as from various professional backgrounds such as the European Ombudsman’s office, the civil service, and NGOs. Keynote addresses were given by the European Ombudsman, Mr. Diamandouros, and prof. Paul ‘t Hart of the Utrecht School of Governance.
In his concluding address, Alasdair Roberts compared the emerging transparency community to his own children: it is now in the age where it starts talking back to you intelligently, but does not yet refuse to talk to you. In other words, transparency as a research field is going through an intellectually exciting time.
Held around a year after the transparency conference in Newark, Utrecht’s TCTR was the second international conference on transparency. The research community hopes to make this a regularly returning event, and invites all members to consider hosting a follow-up. -MH
All papers can be found here. News coverage from Freedom Info can be found here.
April 18th, 2012
Last Monday, Erna Scholtes defended a thesis on the emerging understanding of the idea of transparency over the past decades.
Scholte works as senior consultant at Dutch public consultancy firm Twynstra & Gudde. Over the past years she worked on her research project as an external researcher at Tilburg University. For this research, she analysed over 5000 parliamentary documents from the period between 1995 and 2010, to see how debates about transparency among Dutch MP . has evolved over the years. Her reseach reveals the multi-faceted understanding that politicians have of transparency, and the inherently positive semantic load that the term carries.
Click here to read a press release about the PhD thesis (in Dutch, entitled: “Transparentie, icoon van een dolende overheid”).
March 23rd, 2012
Dr. Albert Meijer of the Open Government in the EU research team has edited the latest edition of the International Review of Administrative Sciences which goes by the title: “Government transparency: creating clarity in a confusing conceptual debate”.
The IRAS special issue is the fruit of a symposium on government transparency that was held at the Utrecht School of Governance in November 2010. It contains various articles by leading transparency researchers such as David Heald (Aberdeen, Scotland), Alasdair Roberts (Suffolk, USA), and Eric Welch (Chicago), but also holds contributions from an active community of transparency researchers at the Utrecht School of Governance.
The special issue approaches transparency research from various angles such as through a conceptual meta-analysis (Meijer, Curtin, Hillebrandt), experimental results (Grimmelikhuijsen), participative government (Welch), public expenditure (Heald), and parliamentary oversight (Brandsma). It can be viewed here, or through your institution’s online library.
February 9th, 2012
The ongoing financial crisis in the Eurozone may not only have the effect of furthering integration, embodied in a Commissioner for national budgets. Dutch news website Nu.nl reports that the Dutch General Accounting Office has called for more openness about expenditure of European funds.
According to the body which controls government expenditure, expenditure in the EU has been falling short of accountability standards for years. Although 90% of European funds (particularly CAP money) are spent by the member states, transparency about the process is required. At the moment however, only four EU members provide such transparency: Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Read more on the Accounting Office’s special website on EU accountability (in Dutch).
February 1st, 2012
The Danish presidency which took over on 1 January, will attempt to make further progress with the embattled transparency dossier.
The Jack of transparency has been out of the box in the EU ever since the Commission presented a proposal to revise the current law on access to documents, in 2008.
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January 23rd, 2012
What did the first years of Council transparency look like?
In this short video clip (in French), former Council spokesman Norbert Schwaiger elaborates on a number of factors that, according to him, contributed to furthering transparency in the Council context.