Clear the smoke in Brussels - demand lobbying transparency now!
A major lobbying scandal has been unraveling in Brussels after one of the European Commission's top officials was forced to resign following allegations of cash-for-influence. The tobacco industry claimed they'd been asked for tens of millions of euros by a lobbyist linked to health commissioner, John Dalli, in exchange for influencing EU tobacco policy. But with new tobacco legislation in the pipeline, there are fears that Dallimay have been caught in a tobacco industry set-up designed to delay changes the industry don't want.
The trouble is that nobody knows what really went on, because the European Commission is refusing to make the facts public. They won't admit that the scandal happened because current EU rules on contacts with lobbyists are too weak.
Help us clear the smoke and demand stronger rules on lobbying transparency now:
Debate on Lithuanian Nuclear Power Deal Centres on Access to Information
It is unacceptable to shield a nuclear project from Freedom of Information says Access Info Europe
22 November 2012, Vilnius – At a high-level debate in Lithuania (20 November 2012), Access Info Europe strongly criticised an anti-freedom of information clause in the public-private partnership agreement on the Visaginas nuclear power plant between the government of Lithuania and Hitachi corporation.
Access Info said that the confidentiality provisions represented particularly dangerous practice and risked stifling public debate around the important issue of nuclear power.
Participants in the debate, hosted by Transparency International Lithuania, included an official advisor to the Lithuanian Government, a lawyer for the Lithuanian Visaginas Nuclear Power plant company, representatives from Latvia and Estonia, and a local lawyer. Under discussion was the draft concession agreement negotiated by the outgoing government and approved by a law in the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament, which contains a blanket confidentiality clause that violates national and international law on the right of access to information:
Spain is a world leader in Open Data. Says who?
13 November 2012 – In September 2012 the Web Foundation published the first edition of its Open Data Index, “a specific set of 14 indicators directly targeted at measuring open data worldwide”. Many open data and transparency activists in Spain were surprised to find Spain in the leading pack, since Spain still doesn't have an access to information law and there is no coherent national Open Data policy or practice. The only actively maintained Open Data initiatives are those started by a few local and regional governments, with no coordination or support from the national level. More importantly, key datasets about health, education, public procurement or official agendas are still being withheld by the administration,with no plan to release them.
When asked for an explanation and rationale for these results, the Web Foundation responded that these results are "based on perception". In particular, in the perception of one person in Spain, who asked not to be identified, and about whom we know nothing.
We have been told that the questions measure “availability”, not “openness”. If so, the name of the Open Data Index is seriously misleading. When the Spanish government was asked in March 2012 by member of parliament Alberto Garzon to release the national budget in machine-readable format, the official government response said "transparency is about the extent of the information provided, not about formal aspects of presentation". In spite of this, and of the fact budget execution (spending) data has little detail, procurement data is fragmented across many sources - most often in non-reusable formats -, and of the fact citizens have no access whatsoever to actual invoices, Spain gets a score of 8/10 on spending data (see question Q23b).
The Debate on How to Measure "Openness"
9 November 2012 – In a public comment issued today, Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe and Toby Mendel, Executive Directorof the Centre for Law and Democracy respond to criticisms of the RTI Rating in the paper Measuring Openness: A Survey of Transparency Ratings and the Prospects for a Global Index by Sheila Coronel, Director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and Profesor at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University.
The authors of the comment also raise concerns about the various global indices of "transparency" and "openness" and call for a more rigorous discussion about how to measure levels of access to information in practice.
update 12 November 2012 – A response from Professor Coronel is posted below the comment. Access Info welcomes this debate and invites other readers of our website to send us their comments.
The need for clarity on what we are measuring
Sheila Coronel's paper, Measuring Openness: A Survey of Transparency Ratings and the Prospects for a Global Index, is the first serious piece of research about the systems for assessing government openness which have mushroomed in recent years, alongside a corresponding growth in overall interest in openness. It is useful inasmuch as it provides an overview of what is being done around the world, and also in its analysis of the challenging question of the practicality and utility of a global or super index. It largely misses the mark, however, in its assessment of existing systems, mostly because it compares them to the idea of a super index, rather than against their own objectives and the functional utility they actually provide.
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