New Calls For Open Government in Europe

Demand for Transparency Over Lobbying in Brussels
Fears Over Lack of Commitment to Public Access Rules

The European Federation of Journalists today warned that secrecy and a lack of accountability over corporate and political lobbying pose a threat to independent reporting of the European Union. At the same time journalists expressed fears over a lack of commitment to recently adopted rules on access to official documents in Brussels.

The European Federation of Journalists, which represents more than 200,000 journalists in Europe, says that a lack of transparency in relations between European Union institutions and corporate and political lobbyists, consultants and media is potentially dangerous to the democratic process.

"Whenever there is secrecy about financial arrangements between lobbyists and the political process, the quality of democratic scrutiny is damaged," said Gustl Glattfelder Chair of the European Federation of Journalists Steering Committee. "That is why it is time for more openness about lobbying in Brussels."

The EFJ wants new rules to include the publication of registers of recognised lobbying groups and consultants in which details of meetings, activities and financial arrangements involving the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are made public.

The EFJ says journalists and media organisations should not be drawn into unacceptable conflicts of interests by carrying out actions on behalf of non-journalistic groups while engaged in journalistic work. "Journalists have a duty to be independent and they must take their professional responsibilities seriously," says the EFJ, which itself is a recipient of EU funding for projects supporting the professional and social rights of journalists. The Federation plans to work with professional organisations of journalists in Belgium and foreign correspondents to seek appropriate changes in existing procedures.

The EFJ is also to press the EU to show more commitment to new rules on access to documents, which came into force last month. Campaigners for open government may have to "go back to the barricades" to secure the transparency promised by European Union leaders last year, says the EFJ.

"Recent actions confirm our fears that there is half-hearted commitment to the new Regulation on public access to European Union documents," says Gustl Glattfelder, "We have seen slow progress on the preparation of registers of documents and, indeed, some confusion among the institutions over what is to be included."

The EFJ is also angered by a decision of the Council of Ministers to refuse access to copies of the agendas for joint United States-EU meetings after the US government said it did not want them to be made public.

"This implies that the EU has given the right of veto to the US," said Gustl Glattfelder, "This is a dangerous precedent; there is a difference between a consultation with a third party on access to documents and giving non-EU governments a de facto veto over disclosure. It blows a hole in the strategy for transparency agreed last year."