Madrid, 18 May 2021 – Access Info Europe today issued a legal analysis of the draft of the Austrian Freedom of Information Act, expressing concerns over shortcomings such as the narrow definition of information, the absence of an independent oversight body, and the lack of a sanctions regime for non-compliance.
Austria currently has the weakest transparency regime in the world, with just 33 out of 150 points on the Global Right to Information Rating, run by Access Info Europe and the Centre for Law and Democracy. The new law would only take Austria to 57 out of 150, so it is imperative that the draft be improved before adoption.
Recommendations submitted by Access Info to a Parliamentary consultation include:
- Extending the definition of information to all material held by or on behalf of public authorities;
- Specifying exactly what each public body has to publish proactively in the information register;
- Providing for applicants to receive a receipt or acknowledgement upon lodging a request within a period not exceeding 5 working days;
- Making it mandatory for public officials to help requesters formulate their requests;
- Bringing response timeframes in line with international standards;
- Establishing an information commissioner with strong powers.
Access Info also strongly recommends Austria to bring its law into line with the minimum standards set out in the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, also known as the Tromsø Convention, and that it ratify the Convention, which came into force on 1 December 2020.
Austria should also consider joining the Open Government Partnership, a group of 78 countries committed to transparency, which counts 21 European Union countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain among its members.
“It’s scandalous that Austria, a developed European democracy, is at the bottom of the transparency league. The government should seize this opportunity to strengthen the freedom of information bill, to advance the fight against corruption, and to increase confidence in public authorities,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Directive of Access Info Europe.
Picture: Austrian Parliament