Thursday 22 January 2009

Transparency in the European Union: What we could learn from Obama

Yesterday, Day 1 of Barack Obama's presidential term.

A memo was sent to all heads of executive departments and agencies.

Its subject: "Transparency and Open Government".

And its content:
"My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

And in a second memo on the Freedom and Information Act you can find a sentence that sounds like a dream compared to what European public administrations, national and supranational, are doing:
"The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails."
Wow! If this would be the standard for the European Union institutions, administrations, and executives...


Anonymous said...

We currently have much stronger transparency standards in the EU and they are under reform in Parliament.

Michael Cashman is the rapporteur.

Julien Frisch said...

Thanks for that comment.

But it's not only about standards - it's also about spirit. And I don't have the feeling that European administrations very much respect the idea of free access to information as a democratic value in itself.