14th May 2021

EU transparency proposal criticised by Sweden

Sweden has criticised recent commission proposals to overhaul the rules on providing public access to documents, saying they represent a step backwards.

"We had the notion that we wouldn't exactly jump with joy over the proposal, but I must say this is a bit further away form our position, and from what we had hoped for," said justice minister Beatrice Ask.

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  • "This is absolutely contrary to the development we want to see," says Beatrice Ask (Photo: Sveriges Riksdag)

"The Commissions says this will improve transparency. I find it difficult to find improvements here, it's almost the other way round," Ms Ask told representatives from Swedish media at a roundtable discussion in Stockholm earlier this month.

Ms Ask said the proposal, unveiled by Swedish commissioner Margot Wallstrom at the end of April and updating rules from 2001, singles out swathes of documents that would not be covered by the proposed transparency rules.

These include documents submitted to courts and documents forming parts of investigations by EU institutions.

The Swedish Union of Journalist has also criticised the proposals.

Meanwhile, legal experts in the Swedish government are also concerned that the proposal, if adopted, could be overruled by data legislation.

As existing data legislation only allows publication of data for the same purpose as the data was collected, this could narrow the scope for transparency, experts fear.

"This is absolutely contrary to the development we want to see," Ms Ask said.

There is also unease in the Swedish government over the proposed new definition of documents.

"It says documents should be registered in the institutions, and at the same time that documents not registered do not exist - that simply doesn't make sense," a legal adviser to the government claimed.

The vague definition is also criticised by the UK-based civil liberties watchdog, Statewatch.

"At a stroke the new area of openness and transparency promised in the Amsterdam Treaty will be dealt a fatal blow and we will be back in the age of the 'dinosaurs'," according to Statewatch' editor Tony Bunyan, referring to an expression coined by the first European Ombudsman Jacob Söderman in 1999.

Member states are expected to decide on the new transparency proposal in the second half of next year.

At this point, Sweden will chair council meetings as part of the EU presidency, something that was also the case when the current set of rules were adopted.

Ms Ask said Stockholm has already made contact with the European Parliament and other governments on the issue to prevent a rolling back of openness and transparency.

"The new members states in the Union have shown engagement and interest in these issues. I'm pretty confident that we will able to find allies amongst them," she said.

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