Sweden seeks Ireland's approval for extending EU rights to information


SWEDEN is seeking Ireland's support for measures to make the EU reflect Swedish law on openness and transparency.

Mr Gunnar Lund, the Under Secretary of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and his government's chief negotiator at the Inter Governmental Conference on a revised Maastricht Treaty, told The Irish Times his government was pleased at the inclusion of proposals for openness in the Irish draft following the Dublin summit last month. But he said they were not strong enough to satisfy Swedish public opinion.

He said Sweden wanted a guarantee that the European Council would establish rules for all EU institutions guaranteeing access to all documents except for those under special exemptions. Sweden also wants all documents to be registered to enable public access, as is the law in Sweden.

While some progress had been made under the Irish presidency, Mr Lund said the proposal was still meeting heavy resistance, especially from the French, Spanish and Italian governments.

The draft agreement reached in Dublin stated that the Council "may" draw up the necessary rules for openness and transparency. Sweden, however, wants that, to be amended so that the Council "shall" draw up rules.

Mr Lund would not confirm Ireland's attitude at the talks in Brussels, but officials were clearly disappointed that Irish negotiators were not more supportive of the Swedish position, given the Government's support for freedom of information in Ireland.

There are two reasons for Sweden's insistence on greater openness. Firstly, Sweden has had rights of access to official documents since 1766, and has the world's oldest guarantees of freedom of expression and press freedom. The other reason centres on public opposition to the EU, with opinion polls showing a majority opposed to Sweden's membership.

The government believes a statement favouring access to official documents, similar to that in Sweden, would help persuade Swedes that EU institutions are democratic and accountable.

The government has also been concerned that its support for access to documents has been misunderstood. Mr Lund emphasised that under the Swedish system certain material is exempt from public scrutiny. This includes anything that might damage relations with other governments. Some governments, he said, believe every document is available in Sweden and are fearful that Sweden wants that to apply throughout the EU.

Meanwhile, the EU's Ombudsman, Mr Jacob Soderman, has called for rights of access to EU documents to be included in a reviewed Maastricht treaty. Mr Soderman wants the Inter Governmental Conference to propose an article which establishes a citizen's right of access to documents held by EU institutions, but is subject to clear exceptions.