This is the second ALTER-EU newsletter, and like last time, there is a lot to share. Precisely one month ago, on 3 February, ALTER-EU organised a public debate in Brussels about the new code of conduct for ex-commissioners. Three members of the European Parliament from different political groups, one British parliamentarian and our steering committee member Paul de Clerck took part in the discussion that was moderated by Hajo Friedrich, a German Brussels-based journalist. Photo's, recordings and quotes can be found on the website.
Other recent news includes the open letter that ALTER-EU sent together with its member groups European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and Health Action International Europe (HAI), and the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) and the International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB) to commissioner John Dalli for Health and Consumer Policy. In it, we challenge the European Medicines Agency's decision for which the commissioner is responsible, for letting its former director, Mr Thomas LÃ¶nngren, to take up an advisory role within the private pharmaceutical sector just weeks after leaving his position with the regulatory agency.
Also this time we asked two of our recently joined members to present themselves, and so we have interesting contributions of Afrika Kontakt, a Danish member-based organization with many collective members (such as trade unions) that represent more than 1.5 million people and over 500 individual members, and Access Info, a Madrid-based organisation that actively cooperates with leading civil society groups nationally, and internationally.
Finally, we would like to thank those of you who have responded to our request to renew your support on the basis of ALTER-EU's ten point statement. For those of you who haven't yet, we are looking forward to your reconfirmation.
New ALTER-EU members
We asked Afrika Kontakt (Denmark) and Access Info (Spain) why they joined ALTER-EU, how they see their role in relation to other members, and how they experience 'corporate secrecy', 'privileged access' and 'excessive industry influence' in their work at the national and European levels. Here's what they answered.
Afrika Kontakt decided to join the coalition as we are deeply concerned with the privileged and intransparent access that European decision makers have bestowed the corporate sector. We believe that corporate lobbyists have been directly responsible for blockage or weakening of progressive solutions in areas that are of great concern to us and our African partners. These are areas such as international trade and investment, climate change, biofuels (and subsequently land grabbing), fisheries and dumping of agricultural goods.
Afrika Kontakt has only limited resources in terms of finance and staff. All our work relies on our 60+ activists who use their spare time to keep the organisation running. Therefore, Afrika Kontakt cannot take actively part in all discussions, rallies or meetings.
However, over the next half year, our board member, Mads Christian Barbesgaard, will be based in Brussels. He has suggested that he will help out at the ALTER-EU secretariat, if an extra pair of hands is needed.
Afrika Kontakt has encountered 'excessive industry influence' and 'privileged access' on matters such as EU Climate- and Energy package (2008), negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements with ACP countries (ongoing), WTO negotiations and many other things.
To know more about the work of Afrika Kontakt, please visit: http://www.sydafrika.dk/africa-contact
Access Info Europe has witnessed the entrenched secrecy of some EU institutions and Member States, and is concerned that the lack of a culture of transparency coupled with the privileged access of “independent experts” to EU decision makers will ultimately invalidate the public’s democratic right to participate in the decisions that affect their everyday lives.
Access Info Europe is specialised in the right of access to public information, and coordinates the global Freedom of Information Advocates Network.
Our Help Desk is used by individuals and organisations which need information in order to defend and protect other human rights.
We give advice on how to access information and what to do if this information is denied, and provide support during litigation procedures. Our own litigation cases are chosen strategically in order to advance transparency in the EU and in its Member States through the establishment of precedents.
We usually work in partnerships or coalitions and would be happy to team up with other organisations in the ALTER-EU coalition in order to promote and defend the public’s right to know.
Access Info is based in Madrid, Spain, a country with no access to information law. The secrecy here is entrenched in all levels of the public administration and of course, in the corporations. For example, a request for information on corporate tax evasion was answered by another question: “Are you a company? If not, you cannot access this information”. Access Info is working to advance transparency in Spain through the Coalición Pro Acceso which comprises over 50 leading Spanish CSOs.
At the European level we are engaged in a number of campaigns, the latest of which is the “Campaign to Protect EU Transparency” supported by 150 CSOs. The campaign is trying to stop regressive reforms to the EU’s access to documents rules, Regulation 1049/2001, proposed by the Commission.
Our research in EU Member States has shown that even when the issue at stake is the EU’s equivalent of an access to information law, secrecy is the rule and access to documents the exception.
For example, when asked for their position on the proposed reforms of EU Regulation 1049/2001 on public access to Parliament, Council and Commission documents, 18 of the 27 Member States provided absolutely no information. The Council provided some documents, outlining the arguments put forward by the Member States, but with all of the Member States’ names blacked out. A report on this issue will be launched in Brussels on the 21st March 2010.
In parallel with this, Access Info is engaged in litigation against the Council of the European Union with a view to securing more transparency about decision making by member states which may be subject to influence of interest groups which cannot be checked without access to key documents. The Court ruling will be issued on 22 March 2011.
The composition of the Working Parties and Expert Groups in the EU is also of great concern to Access Info, since the current levels of transparency are far from adequate. In many cases, it is all but impossible to know who the EU’s experts are, what reforms they are proposing, and on whose behalf. We will be working more on this in the second half of 2011.
To know more about the work of Access Info, please visit: http://www.access-info.org/