Measures to increase transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU

 

The European Union needs to enhance the transparency offered by its institutions and Member States. Being an active participant in a democracy means being an active participant in the management of public money. The main feature of transparency is its close and indissoluble link with the essence of democracy. Transparency is essential when talking about the rule of law, since it makes it possible to control and render accounts at all levels of governance. Uncontrolled democracy is not democracy.

  1. Introduction

Citizens do not ask the government for measures against corruption or lack of transparency; there are enough. We just want them to be enforced. There is no use in having the most advanced and ambitious standards against corruption and transparency if they are not implemented or if the means to exercise them do not work.

We are still missing the most important thing: a sincere political will to be transparent. This attitude does not always exist and, of course, without the constant pressure of citizenship, the current attitude of authorities, officials or entities managing public funds will never change.

So the challenge is served. Citizens should be aware of the benefits transparency can bring to their daily lives: corruption will be reduced and the waste of public money will be avoided. In other words, it is possible to have more and better public services with fewer taxes.

Democracy does not consist in just voting every four years, but in participating in the management of public money every day of the year.

The ‘right to transparency’ is part of the third generation of human rights, and includes, in turn, the following rights:

a) The right to know: citizens have the right to know what happens inside the government that is at their service.

b) The right to control: when the actions of the authorities are known, it is possible to control the legality and timeliness of the decisions taken, it is also likely to know how public funds are used and what is their fate.

c) The right of citizens to be actors and not just spectators of political life.

Currently, there is no problem in publishing information that citizens need in order to pay taxes or comply with their duties. However, it is more difficult to get economic data that enables people to find the actual destination of revenue.

Access to sensitive information, such as the final cost of administrative contracts, the use or destination of public funds, subsidies granted, cost of salaries, allowances and travel of our political representatives or administrative authorities the funding of political parties, trade unions and employers’ organisations, or waiting lists for health, housing etc has very few doses of transparency.

2. Measures 

  • At EU level

Transparency, integrity and ethical behaviour, accountability and good governance should inspire and be mainstreamed into all EU administrative and political initiatives. 

  1. European Law of Administrative Procedure

There is no general law on administrative procedures to determine clearly the rights of European citizens in relation to institutions and bodies. This is a situation that is far from satisfactory.

A European Law of Administrative Procedure applicable to the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies in their relations with the public would contribute to a high level of transparency and accountability, increase citizens’ confidence in an open, efficient and independent EU administration with respect to their rights and enhance their procedural rights vis-à-vis the EU institutions[1].

  1. Regulation 1049/2001

The importance of access to documents. It’s necessary an ambitious reform of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 despite the present deadlock in the Council on the revision. Remarks the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU, in particularly cases C-39/05 P and C-52/05 P where the Court has developed a distinction between documents of legislative and administrative proceedings when considering the conditions governing the public disclosure of documents within the context of the legislative procedure.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union gives individuals the right of access to public documents, and criticises the fact that one of the main transparency-related problems facing the European institutions is their own frequent refusal to grant access to documents and information.

It’s necessary to streamline access to information and ensure greater transparency in the application of the rules on exceptions set out in Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001.

Commission have to ensure that access is provided to documents and information on formal notice issued to and infringement proceedings taken against Member States and on the implementation of Court of Justice judgments.

  1. Trilogues

Parliament and the Council ought to accept more extensive transparency obligations, particularly in trilogues and conciliation procedures. It’s necessary to improve the transparency of legislative negotiations and underlines the importance of publishing the progress of negotiations after each trilogue and to opt for a plenary mandate for Parliament’s negotiating team in order to improve transparency in first reading agreements commonly conducted in trilogues;

  1. TTIP negotiations

It’s very important to ensure greater transparency in the TTIP negotiations and give all MEPs easy access to the texts under negotiation.

  1. Revolving doors

European Ombudsman’s call on the Commission to make its review processes on ‘revolving doors’ cases more robust in order to avoid conflicts of interest.

  1. Transparency register

It’s essential to introduce a mandatory transparency register with the participation of the Commission, the Council and Parliament in order to achieve a minimum degree of transparency in legislation.

It’s necessary a new transparency measures for Commissioners and Directors-General to other senior EU officials who are heavily involved in the legislative process and meet regularly with relevant stakeholders, such as Heads of Unit.

  1. Protection of whistle-blowers

That effective protection of whistle-blowers would help to increase both public interest and democratic accountability in the European institutions. Ombudsman’s finding that most EU institutions have not yet properly implemented rules to protect whistle-blowers as requested following the reform of the Staff Regulations in 2014.

  • At Member States level
  1. European directive on transparency and access to public information

The importance of citizens’ right to know of justifies the approval of a directive to ensure minimum conditions of access to information regardless of the Member State that is requested. The EU competence titles would be, on the one hand, the internal market and the free flow of information held by the Member States, on the other hand, the protection of fundamental rights of the individual.

The European Union considered that in order to achieve internal market it was necessary to have a “unified data protection law” for all Member States to allow a free movement (article 1 of Directive 1995/46 / EC of October 24, Protection of natural persons in regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data people).

In my opinion, to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, it is also essential to ensure a “common market of public information” in order that the information held by the United circulate freely and the citizens and companies may compete on of equal terms when accessing to such information irrespective of the Member State to which it is requested.

Do not forget the difficulties and costs involved for investors and traders because of the fact of having to deal with different laws on access to information depending on the state in which they operate or conduct their activities (“Green Paper on public sector information in the Information Society”, Brussels, January 1999, COM (1998) 585)[2].

In fact, it constitutes an important step in this regard the obligations imposed on Member States to ensure that providers and recipients of services on the Community market have easy access to relevant information through one-stop shops (article 7 of Directive 2006/123 / EC of 12 December on the Freedom of Services in the Internal Market).

It is an important advance because it is definitely clear the doubts concerning the lack of competence of the EU institutions to adopt a policy on access to information held by the states. However, it is still insufficient because regulation is very basic.

The type of information we can have is very limited access. It does not include all the information held by the state, but only on procedures and formalities, contact details of the competent authorities, conditions for access to records and public databases and information on available legal remedies and data Contact associations and organizations that can provide technical assistance to providers or recipients. A minimum response time is not considered to these requests for information or a mechanism of protection against negative or administrative passivity.

Moreover, the other powers title could serve to support the adoption of a directive on access to public information is the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals.

The fact that the Maastricht Treaty has set the right of access to documents of the Community institutions as an independent and autonomous right of the right to freedom of expression, closer to the right to good administration, has not served to enhance the right to know of citizens. Moreover, it has been possible harm. Since ancient times, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the European Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of 1950, considered including the right of access to public information within the fundamental right to freedom of expression .

The exclusion of the right of access to public information of the right to freedom of expression has downplayed against the right to protection of personal data, which has always been considered sacred also included within the right to privacy. The conclusive fact is that the European Union itself which earlier passed a directive for Member States to ensure the protection of freedoms and fundamental rights of individuals, and in particular their right to privacy, with regard the processing of personal data.

It is possible that if the right of access to public information had been considered in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as embedded in the right to freedom of expression of citizens rather than understood as an autonomous right enshrined nearest the right to good administration since it had approved a specific directive on this matter. The right to freedom of expression is an ancient and sacred right. The right to good administration is a young and in the process of consolidation law.

On the other hand, the Treaty of Lisbon provides for the EU to accede, as a Union, to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It forms the legal basis for this accession, which is simplified by the new, single legal personality of the European Union. This accession will enable the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to verify the compliance of EU acts with the ECHR, which will also serve to enhance the protection of fundamental rights within the European Union.

The European Court of Human Rights has recently stated that the right of access to public information is included within the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR. The European Union should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Considering the importance of transparency of public authorities in a pluralistic, democratic society, the European Union should accede to the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents for the following reasons:

i) it provides a source of information for the public;

ii) it helps the public to form an opinion on the state of society and on public authorities;

iii) it fosters the integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of public authorities, so helping affirm their legitimacy.

If EU institutions and Member States themselves are increasingly transparent, they will increase public trust and democratic legitimacy and the European project will be strengthened.

Can you trust someone if you do not know what it does and how it does? Transparency is like sincerity; demanded of others but less of one’s self.

It is necessary that the all institutions, bodies and agencies of the European Union and governments of the Member States more transparent for citizens. It will increase confidence in the institutions, citizen participation and accountability. More and more citizens move away from the European project.

[1] In its resolution of 15 January 2013, adopted by an overwhelming majority, Parliament called for the adoption of an EU regulation on a European Law of Administrative Procedure. It’s necessary a proposal for a clear and binding set of rules for EU administration on the basis of Article 298 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which calls for openness, efficiency and independence, as well as on the basis of the general principles of EU law, as specified in the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice (CJEU). Recalls that under Articles 10(3) and 11(2) TEU and Article 15 TFEU transparency is the democratic foundation of the European Union.

[2] Available on the web: http://aei.pitt.edu/1168/1/public_sector_information_gp_COM_98_585.pdf; Concluding remark 120: “The lack of transparency of public sector information throughout Europe forms a substantial barrier for citizens and business alike that want to exercise the rights granted by the EC Treaty and benefit of the advantages of the internal market”.

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