The Swedish principle of public access to official documents (offentlighetsprincipen) is restricted by the year end. Yesterday the members of Swedish parliament pushed through the new law of increased confidentiality for EU documents by a vote of 263 to 33 in parliament. The Act means that documents relating to the EU can be secretly stamped. The journalist and press freedom expert Nils Funcke is critical.
- It may well be that documents will be from now on stamped 'top secret' just for safety's sake, he says.
Only the Green Party and the Left Party voted against the bill that parliament clubbed through on Thursday afternoon on 21th of november.
SvD has asked the journalist and press freedom expert Nils Funcke what amendment does.
- You could say that the value of the Swedish principle of public access to official documents(offentlighetsprincipen) has been heavily devalued. It is no longer clear that the Swedish authorities will provide information and documents in one way or another that affects cooperation within the EU, he says to SvD.
Today, about 50 percent of all legislation in Sweden is built on commitments within the EU. The new bill which will be now inserted in Swedish law means that information in public documents that Swedish authorities receive from other EU countries and developed in conjunction with the EU cooperation, can be kept confidential. Before this bill it was not the case. This can happened on the assumption that "Sweden's possibilities deteriorates to participate in international cooperation, if information regarding cooperation becomes known."
What does this mean in practice?
- That's the problem. It's such a general provision without specific points in it, that can be used easily for almost anything. This bill will be like a wet blanket over all correspondence with government agencies within the EU and with EU countries.
How can it be applied do you mean?
- There is no guidance to the Swedish officials. It could very well be that most of the documents will got secret stamps just for safety's sake, said Funcke to SvD.
- In addition, the rule is very vague. In the text of the bill it is said that anything could dampen Sweden's ability to participate in international collaborations if its known by the public, - so under this circumstances that the bill is written it can really include anything. Here, in this case we should be much clearer and sharpen the writing so the privacy option can be used only in cases where it can harm Sweden's chances in EU.
But there is a problem here that data is classified in other EU countries can be spread if they are sent to the Swedish authorities, and that it can affect Sweden's international cooperation? The fact is that Sweden simply cannot take advantage of all available information?
- The risk that Sweden would fall outside is probably extremely small. In addition, the government proposal and this bill is not touching the important freedom of information.
It shall be retained and, with it, you anyway can never prevent information leaks from the Swedish authorities in any case.
Does it require a constitutional amendment?
- No it does not. But you can see it as a violation of the declaration made by Sweden unilaterally associated with EU membership where we made clear that we do not intend to change the open government and freedom of information because it is part of our cultural heritage. (SVD, HUNSOR.se)