Local view for "http://purl.org/linkedpolitics/eu/plenary/2001-05-02-Speech-3-088"

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"Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, this is a day I should not have dared to hope for: to be able to stand before you at this decisive moment. The European Parliament’s part-session for today and tomorrow is an important event for the institutions and Member States of the European Union. Above all, however, the meeting is an important event for the citizens of Europe. At this meeting, Parliament will have the opportunity to take a decisive step in the work on bringing the European Union closer to its citizens. For the first time in what will soon be the EU’s fifty-year history, the adoption of Treaty-based rules on public access to Parliament’s, the Council’s and the Commission’s documents is within the bounds of possibility. There are a number of reasons why both Parliament and the Swedish Presidency have put such intensive effort into pressing on with the negotiations. First and foremost, there was a political commitment to have the new rules on transparency ready by May of this year. We consequently have an obligation to do everything that can be done to fulfil these expectations. Ultimately, it is the EU’s credibility that is at stake. The Council and Parliament must show people that efforts really are being made to establish sound rules within the period promised. Secondly, new and better provisions are . As standards, the rules with which people have had to be content until now are of low status because they are founded upon the institutions’ internal rules of procedure and have major gaps in them. For example, the rules do not include documents submitted to the institutions. Nor is there any right to obtain parts of documents. Of the institutions, it is as yet only the Council that has set up a public register, and the current rules mean that obtaining documents is time-consuming. Another example of gaps in the current rules is the fact that the list of reasons for secrecy is not exhaustive. The proposal on which Parliament is to adopt a position is a clear improvement upon the current legal position. It is a proposal of its time. In many cases, documents will be accessible directly via the Internet. The European Parliament has been demanding this for a long time, and this demand is now met in the new proposal. It will also be possible, just as before, for documents to be handed over upon written request. The time which the institutions now have in which to respond to a request has been cut back. Access must be provided as soon as possible, and no later than within 15 working days. The institutions are obliged to give citizens all the help they need in order to acquaint themselves with documents. In those cases in which international law may allow still greater public access to documents in certain areas, for example the right to environmental information under the Århus Convention, the proposed new rules will not prevent this. Another improvement is that the new rules apply to the institutions’ documents. No exception is made for certain categories of document, for example documents relating to defence or security issues. This improvement is also a result of the European Parliament’s initiative. Naturally, the new rules on this point are designed in such a way as to guarantee secrecy in those cases in which this is justified for defence or security reasons. The compromise text on which Parliament has now to adopt a position therefore constitutes progress towards a citizens’ Europe and progress for democracy. The new rules will markedly improve citizens’ access to EU documents. I am convinced that, in the long term, the new rules will also mean significantly positive changes to the institutions’ administrative culture and to officials’ relationship with the general public. Through the new rules, the European Union will gain increased public confidence and acquire increased democratic legitimacy. Access to the institutions’ documents is the lever that is required if these objectives are to be attained. As the country holding the Presidency, our task has not been to import either Swedish or other Member States’ national rules on the public accessibility of documents into the institutions. Rather, our task has been to combine the best in the various Member States’ administrative cultures and historical experience, taking account of the institutions’ own experiences and need for special adjustments. This is a task in which, in the Council and together with the Commission and representatives of Parliament, we have succeeded, and it is now up to Parliament finally to adopt a position on a text which is the result of 15 months’ hard, intensive and ultimately fruitful negotiations. However good the new rules may be, they must be adapted little by little to new requirements. It is therefore excellent that, in the course of the negotiations, the European Parliament should have taken the initiative to include a provision whereby the new rules are to be monitored and evaluated. According to the proposal, the Commission must by 31 January 2004 at the latest – in good time for the next parliamentary election – present a comprehensive report on how the rules on transparency have operated in practice. Anyone who has followed the dramatic negotiations of the last few weeks knows that the proposal for a Regulation, which has come about through the way in which all the institutions concerned have accepted responsibility, is balanced on a knife-edge. I am convinced that this part-session has the potential to go down in history as the meeting at which Parliament took advantage of a unique opportunity to bring the European Union closer to its citizens. I want to thank the European Parliament for its energetic and persistent work on establishing new and better rules on transparency. In the process, I have had the great satisfaction of meeting a number of you personally, and I know what major contributions many of you have made on this important issue. It is also an historic decision because it is not now the Member States at an Intergovernmental Conference but the institutions themselves which are taking responsibility for the future of the European Union. The very fact that the institutions managed to agree about an issue on which it was uniquely difficult to negotiate but which was crucial to public confidence in the EU – and to have done so within the period promised in the Treaty of Amsterdam – provides hope for the future, in my opinion. It is now up to the European Parliament to decide. I am convinced that future generations of Europeans will remember what happened on 2 and 3 May 2001. Far too many citizens in today’s EU find the administration of the EU’s institutions dusty, old-fashioned and unduly bureaucratic. To overcome this, we need a modern, effective and efficient EU in which people’s participation and access to documents is the obvious basis for all the work done. There are different ways of improving transparency in the EU’s institutions, but far and away the best and most effective way is to have generous rules concerning access to documents, combined with open registers. Such rules increase public confidence in the institutions and make it possible for people to participate in the decision-making process. The air is cleared when everyone knows that all the documentation concerning the decision-making process can be inspected and, as a rule, is also accessible. The European Parliament emphasised the importance of greater transparency in the EU’s institutions early on. Parliament’s resolution from January 1999 described its significance by saying that the trend towards greater transparency and public scrutiny of documents is of fundamental importance if the EU is to be successful in the future, because it helps clarify the EU’s political choices, promotes a more extensive and better balanced input into the political process, reduces the level of corruption and abuse of power and generally promotes a greater acceptance of EU decisions among the people of Europe. It is my conviction that the European Parliament’s resolution set a standard for the implementation work which has now been completed and which the Commission in particular was forced to take into account when it devised its proposal for a Regulation. For example, Parliament’s statement made it impossible in practice to exempt documents received by the institutions from the requirement that they be publicly accessible. I am speaking here today as a representative of the Council, but I am also a cabinet minister in the Swedish Government. When the treaty concerning Sweden’s, and a number of other countries’, membership of the EU was signed in Corfu in June 1994, the European Council stated that the new Member States were at the forefront of open government and public access to documents and it welcomed the further stimulus that the new Member States could provide on these issues. Sweden has tried to fulfil these hopes, partly by taking the initiative, during the previous intergovernmental conference, to incorporate fundamental rules concerning transparency and public control of documents into the EU Treaties. As the country holding the Presidency during the first six months of this year, we believe that we have an obligation to do everything in our power to head up the work on implementing those rules which were in fact incorporated into the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Treaty of Amsterdam established people’s right to study the European Parliament’s, the Council’s and the Commission’s documents. It means that people are entitled under the Treaty to be given access to these documents. The new rules now to be discussed by Parliament will be much more stable and have much more of an effect than the current rules, which the institutions can change or even repeal unilaterally whenever they wish. The work over the last few months has been very intensive. All the parties involved have invested an enormous amount of time and resources in establishing sound rules on transparency. Parliament’s representatives, in particular, have campaigned vigorously and persistently for such rules. I particularly wish to thank the committee chairman, Mr Watson, the rapporteurs, Mr Cashman and Mrs Maij-Weggen, and Commissioner Barnier."@en1

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