Speech by Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson at the University of Helsinki webinar "Twenty years of Regulation 1049/2001 on Public Access to EU Documents: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead" 28.5.2021
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this seminar that is focused on an EU instrument very dear to Finland. We consider public access to official documents a key element for open and good governance, democratic control and participatory citizenship. The topic is very relevant also at the national level: the government of Finland has recently launched a project aiming at modernisation of our national legislation on the publicity of official documents.
The Transparency Regulation became EU law twenty years ago. Finland and Sweden had joined the European Union a few years earlier, and I believe this regulation is a concrete proof of our firm aim to introduce Nordic administrative culture and law into the European Union. Another important step taken at the beginning of the new millennium was, of course, the adoption of Article 42 of the European Charter on Fundamental Rights. It introduces the right of access to documents as a European fundamental right.
During the past twenty years, the European Court of Justice has actively developed the interpretation of our legislative framework. It has been a priority for Finland to be an active player also in this process.
Today, we have come a long way. I see new opportunities for taking the next decisive steps towards increased transparency, and increased democracy.
Two weeks ago, the Conference on the Future of Europe was launched, calling for people to speak up on topics such as values, rights and democracy. Also, the Commission recently published the first-ever European action plan on democracy. Transparency and access to information have indeed gained new relevance, as the EU and its Member States are intensifying cooperation to develop democracy and tackle fake news and disinformation.
The EU is also actively developing the mechanisms safeguarding the rule of law, with the full support of the Finnish government. A strong legislative framework ensuring good administration is a key feature of the Nordic approach to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. Let us also not forget that transparency is an important anti-corruption measure.
We still have work ahead of us, and this is why today´s seminar is important. Your input is needed, and I encourage you to seize the opportunity to take stock and give advice for the future. The Commission has withdrawn its earlier proposals to reform the Regulation, but I do not think that this is the end of the story. Let us not forget, for instance, that there are two requirements in the Lisbon Treaty that still wait to be put into practice: one on the scope of access to official documents, and one on good administration.
Given the importance of Nordic cooperation also in the EU, I am pleased that we can hear today the President of the Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden sharing her experiences from the negotiation process 20 years ago, and my colleague, Minister Morgan Johansson highlighting the need for EU action in the future as well. Sweden will soon be holding the EU Presidency.
I am glad to note that the pilot initiative undertaken by the Finnish EU Presidency in 2019 has now led to the adoption of a new approach to legislative transparency in the Council. More documents are issued as public, and more legislative documents are proactively made public. The Council has also tried to ensure legislative transparency also during the exceptional circumstances created by COVID19.
I express my warm thanks to the University of Helsinki for the initiative to organise this seminar. I wish you all a very fruitful seminar, and I am eagerly waiting for the conclusions we can draw from the discussions. And finally, I look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen European democracy!