ICTs, Public Access to Documents, and Transparency in the European Union: The Role of the European Ombudsman

ICTs, Public Access to Documents, and Transparency in the European Union: The Role of the European Ombudsman

Marios Papandreou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6248-3.ch011


This chapter examines the relationship between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and transparency in the public sphere. The link between the two is rather easy to conceive: ICTs facilitate flow and management of information, which is crucial to achieve openness and accountability and advance public debate. In this chapter, the issue is examined in the context of the European Union (EU), from the point of view of public access to documents and the role of the European Ombudsman (EO). The author presents the applicable legislative framework and discusses the role of the EO in facilitating and promoting public access to documents, with emphasis on the EO's mandate, the procedure followed, and its possible outcomes. The last part of the chapter examines the decision of the EO on a recent case concerning public access to documents of interest to a wide public, whereby it is illustrated that ICTs, by facilitating access to documents and information, advance openness, transparency, good governance, and accountability.
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2. Public Access To Documents In The Eu

In the EU, access to documents has been utilized to improve openness and transparency, and counter what has often been described as “democratic deficit”. It has constituted a fundamental element of good governance and administration (Söderman 2000), bolstering the legitimacy of EU decision-making processes (Frost 2003: 89) and improving the quality of their outcomes.

The “starting point of the gradual recognition” of access to documents as a right in the EU can be traced back to the Treaty of Maastricht (Kranenborg 2008: 1083), in an era when the democratic legitimacy of the EU was put into question, and citizens were pressing for more openness and access to Commission and Council documents (Diamandouros 2008: 654). The seventeenth Declaration of the Treaty of Maastricht emphasised the importance of transparent decision-making in enhancing democracy and strengthening public confidence in EU administration (Declaration No. 17 annexed to the Treaty of Maastricht, OJ C 191, 29 July 1992, p. 101). This resulted in the Council, the Commission and the Parliament adopting codes of conduct concerning public access to documents whereby they, however, delineated the scope of the right in a rather narrow manner (Moser 2001: 7-8).

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