A majority in the Swedish parliament is ready to limit the publics access to certain documents relating to the EU. A very serious development, says the chairman of Swedens constitutional committee but the politicians claim they have no alternative because the proposed change has been ordered by the EU. The problem is that its not true.
The proposed regulation makes it possible for the Swedish authorities to keep information in documents regarding Swedens relations to other countries within the EU co-operation secret. If Sweden does not comply with orders from Brussels to do so, it may simply not get access to vital information, say politicians who are prepared to accept this change to Swedens famed principle of public access.
The European Union is not anyones friend, especially independencys friend. The European Union tends to be a totalitarian body hiding behind a huge bureaucracy. And, like any bureaucracy, it has a constant tendency to grow.
The Eurocrats have a long track record of promising something and then doing exactly the opposite or of promising that they will not do something and then flat-out break that promise.
Being a large bureaucracy behind which leading ideologues can hide, the EU becomes attractive for politicians as well. In fact, in many countries that have joined the EU, the only people that have actually benefited from membership are the politicians.
But the EU is not only financially attractive to politicians, as it is also attractive through the fact that they can hide their own incompetence, their own lack of backbone and their agendas behind the EU. In many EU countries, it is quite fashionable for politicians to claim that a certain unpopular measure is an EU obligation or that it is implemented with a view to being in compliance with EU standards. This way of framing the discussion has its advantages since fewer people will contest the measure in question and those that do can easily be dismissed as nationalist whackos or far-right populists. Also, framing the debate in these terms usually gives the public the impression that the politicians really have no choice but to do Brussels bidding.
This seems to be the case with the legislative proposal to curb public access to documents concerning Swedens relationship with the EU. The Swedish public is being told that this is a step towards aligning Swedens legal framework to EU standards and that this proposal comes almost like a diktat from the EU, so theres nothing Sweden can do about it. Roughly half of Swedens legislation comes from the EU and the same is the case with many other EU Member States.
Consequently, this way of framing the discussion may actually make sense. The only problem is that its not true.
While there is little doubt that some EU politicians have tried to pressure Sweden to pass such legislation, the European Union has no legal authority to coerce Member States into adopting such measures and, in fact, this would be against the Lisbon Treaty that is held so dear by any self-respecting EU promoter.
The closest thing in the EU legislation to what is being proposed in the Swedish parliament is the European Councils decision of March 31, 2011, which lays out the minimum standards for protecting EU classified information. But that document does not mention, be it implicitly or explicitly, anything about documents that are now fully available to the public. It merely sets the minimum guidelines on how a document may be classified in the European Union.
There are indeed documents that, if published, could bring harm to the EU or to several Member States but those documents are usually managed by the counter-information departments of the national governments (like MI5 in Britain or FRA the radio service of the defense forces in Sweden). Therefore, the Swedish politicians claim that this new legislation is necessary for Sweden to fulfill its international obligations towards the EU cannot possibly be true.
Moreover, this legislation puts the power of classifying a document as secret in the hands of the Swedish authorities. This would be counter-intuitive for an EU-backed legislation since it would make sense for the EU to want that power for the European bureaucracy. Besides, as the term classified documents has been invented, the one that issues the document should have the right to decide whether its content of is confidential or not. It doesnt make sense for the Swedish authorities to declare a document secret when the issuer (i.e., the EU) did not.
Consequently, the legislative proposal before the Swedish parliament must be motivated by something other than alleged pressures from the EU.
To sum up, one can only speculate about the reasons why the Swedish parliament wants to limit public access to certain documents. One explanation may be that some Swedish politicians lack the backbone to say no a non-binding proposal.
Another reason may be that the EU is set to issue a series of recommendations over the next months before the European elections. EU recommendations are not binding for the national governments (precisely because they tend to be unpopular) but if the Swedish state gets the power to prevent the public from finding out about them, then that same state could put blame on the EU regardless of whether it is true or not.
The EU is definitely not a perfect body and theres no shortage of totalitarian measures coming from the EU and shoved down the throats of over 500 million people. But the blame for the legislative proposal to curb public access to EU documents should be laid at the feet of Swedish politicians who promote it and not at the feet of the EU. Even if the EU has in fact put pressure on Sweden to change its law (although there is no official evidence that the EU wants this), it is within the right, the duty and the responsibility of Swedish politicians to say no. It is their own fault if they fail to do so for there is nothing legally binding at EU level that would coerce Sweden (or anyone else) to adopt such a measure.