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CONVENTION ON EU BEST PRACTICE IN ACCESS TO PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION – report from SIA4Y project seminar

Read about our project SIA4Y  “Strengthening civil society rights by information access for European youth” both financed in terms of EU programme “Europe for citizens” (2014 – 2020) meeting on 6 and 7th Nov 2019 in Brussels.  This convention about Freedom of Information (FoI) was organised by one of the partners –  WeCitizens, in partnership with EESC and the University of Louvain, in the framework of the SIA4Y project, 14 speakers of 11 different nationalities intervened during these two half-days.

International trends

According to Ms Adlin Hulin, the promotion of freedom of expression is high on the agenda of UNESCO, which has competencies in the field of culture and education.

Transparency International actively fights against corruption. Matilde Manzi, from TI-Europe, explains the slow process of increasing protection for whistleblowers. EU Member states need to transpose a recent EU Directive and should extend its scope. They also need to decide whether anonymous denunciations of crimes are accepted.

Mrs Assya Kavrakova, from ECAS, shows that we have in 2018 an unprecedented increase in civic engagement. Taking into account that young people act differently, we should be quick enough to grasp the opportunity to enhance democracy.

Mr Alvaro Gonzalez Perez presented two initiatives of his European students federation, AEGEE: http://yvote.eu and Generation Climate Europe (http://gceurope.org). The latter fosters youth climate dialogue, in order to reach joint statements and require stronger climate change policies.

Mr Jean-Paul Pinon, CEO of WeCitizens (Belgium), insists on measures that make politicians more accountable. He also advises a general measure to increase the interest of the average citizen for politics: removing the withholding tax (the tax paid directly by the employer to the State, on account of the employee).

Mrs Rachel Hanna, from Assess Info Europe (Madrid), reminds that we must find the right balance between access to data and protection of privacy. Concerning lobby, everything should be transparent.

Mr Jean-Marie Sohier, from Sealord (Belgium), suggests that citizens set commonly accepted policy standards and investigate how politicians comply.

Country experiences

Mrs Eila Heikkilä presents the Ohjaamo system in Finland: a network of One-Stop Guidance Centers that offer support to persons under the age of 30 for various issues (career planning, life management, participation, etc.).

Ms Wilma Haan, CEO of Open State Foundation, reminds also the economic benefits of transparency by public bodies. Her Foundation publishes big databases: Open Spending (financial data of all the local governments in the Netherlands), Open ‘Poen’, Open municipality, Open multilateral, PoliFLW NL/EU.

Mr JP Pinon shows some Belgian initiatives. WeCitizens started publishing a transparency index of political parties, and a database of politicians (PoliticiansOnline.be). Among many other initiatives, the portal Transparencia.be is more directly helping citizens to access documents from public bodies.

Mrs Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło, explains how they intend to make young people familiar with their right to know, through Youth Advisory bodies like Youth Councils, Youth Boards in various organisations including Euroregion Baltic Youth Board, also represented at this meeting by the YB Chairwoman – Ms Julia Orluk.

Mr Alexander Fanta, an investigative journalist from Netzpolitik (Berlin), gives some examples of how citizens can make an interesting investigation using access to public information. He tells that schools for journalists in his country (Austria) to not really teach the rights of such access.

Mrs Carina Paju mainly commented to initiatives of Transparency International Estonia: Transparency in capital cities (about response time) and Political party financing data.

Mr Johannes Filter, from FragdenStaat.de (Germany), says that involving people will not happen, in the first place, with a heavy investigation about corruption, but with very local questions. To get a youngster more involved in FoI, give him opportunities to find easily information he is personally interested in. FragdenStaat has a webpage allowing students to easily send requests concerning past examination questions for the General University Entrance Qualification.

Guide of good practice

Prof. S. Mrozowska and B. Kijewska, from the University of Gdansk, presented the outcome of their work about FoI, structured in three parts: (I) legal grounds, (II) youth policy and (III) examples of initiatives in the five partner countries.

You can now download our SIA4Y project Code of Good practice – “Youth access to public information. Towards a better understanding of democracy”.

To download the document click below:

SIA4Y_Code of Good Practice

The right to freedom and access to public information, enabling young people to search for and receive public documents, serves as a vital tool in the fight against corruption, facilitates full participation in public life, increases governing efficiency, encourages investment and helps enforce fundamental human rights. The openness of public authorities’ actions is an indicator of a democratic state. It is the fundamental guarantee of citizens’ trust in the state and its law, without which the harmonious functioning of society is not possible. Information on the activities of public bodies may be relevant for both the individual and the general public. Access to it is one of the essential tools enabling citizens to exercise control over those in power.

That is why it is so vital to ensure the broadest possible access to public information. At the institution level,
it means creating conditions for sharing information, and at the citizen level, the ability to exercise this right (I know how and for what). Only those young people who are informed about their rights and obligations can independently make decisions and pursue their goals as full citizens.

Visit our project website: www.civicyouth.eu

The SIA4Y “Right of information access from the youth perspective” workshop took place from 6th-7th March in Elblag, Poland!
The event was organized by the Association of Polish Communes of Euroregion Baltic and brought together 100 young people! There were participants from several Lithuanian cities (Telšiai, Vilnius, Eigirdžiai, Klaipeda), the Russian city of Kaliningrad, Sweden (city of Hässleholm), Poland (Elbląg, Gdańsk, Nowe Miasto Lubawskie, Iława, Dzierzgoń, Olsztyn, Gdynia, Słupsk, Otomin, Warsaw, Przezmark), Italy and Greece!
On 6th March, the participants from abroad arrived in Elbląg! There was a joint dinner and a small local tour by Mr Marcin Żuchowski and Ms Paulina Lieder before the participants’ went to rest and prepare for the forthcoming day!
On 7th March, the workshop ensued in the Town Hall of Elblag. It opened with a speech by Ms. Malgorzata Samusjew, Director of the Association of Polish Communes, workshop host organization. Ms. Valentina Scandola, organizer of the event, introduced the agenda of the day and launched a social media contest, giving later the floor to Ms Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło, representing the Polish Economic Society Branch in Gdańsk, who introduced the project “SIA4Y- Strengthening Civil Society Participation through Public Information Access for European Youth”.
The day was divided into two main workshop sessions, whose main scope was to bring the topic of “right of information access” in the foreground, also trough a synergy between SIA4Y, CaSYPoT and SB YCGN project. The Association of Polish Communes of Euroregion Baltic, in fact, had a chance to keep a fil rouge with the youth-related activities that have been implemented in the last two years. The first one on “Responsible relationships and youth civic engagement”.
The first session was held by Marcin Żuchowski and Agata Ludwiczak, from the hosting organization. The second session, instead, counted on Mr Sergejus Muravjovas and Ms Ieva Duncikaite’s moderation from Transparency International Lithuania with the title: “Model Your Municipality: Participatory Budgeting Session”.
“Responsible relationships and youth civic engagement” session:
At their first task, the participants were divided into 8 groups and asked to answer questions on 8 youth tools, which had a distinct goal each, and were written on large pieces of paper across 8 separate tables. Each group would then proceed to the next table. The tools were: employment mobility, youth information, Youth Centers, youth media, Schools of the Future, School’s Youth Zone, Baltic Youth Week, SB YCGN local round-table meetings-suggestions.
Before the launch of the second session, the winners of the social media contest were prized with lots of tech prizes and the participants had a lunch break in an adjacent room where a rich buffet was laid out.
“Model Your Municipality: Participatory Budgeting Session”:
In this part, participants were partnered according to their home towns and asked to think of and create the budget for a common project that would benefit their municipalities. The allowed budget for the participants was 100 000 euros and they had to present their idea along with the expenses that it’d require. Afterwards, each group presented the idea they came up with and finally the audience had the chance to vote for the idea they considered most interesting and likely to be implemented. The team from Tricity area presented a beach cleaning system and received the most votes. Special mention should be made of the participants from the Elblag-Kaliningrad group who proposed an international cultural festival and the team from Nowe Miasto Lubawskie who presented a very detailed budget.
The workshop closed with a presentation by Mr Dominik Kwiatkowski about the participatory budgeting in the city of Słupsk and a focus group discussion conducted by Mr Marcin Żuchowski about the situation of youth in their schools. This last session was held in the frame of YCGN project.
In general, it was a really fun and educational workshop and its young participants had the chance to get more informed about their rights and opportunities to communicate with and influence their municipalities!

By IVY Theodora Chatzipanteli

Are you a young girl/ boy between 18-25 years old?

Would you like to know more about your right of access to public information?

Then our Youth Workshop is the right occasion for you to gain practical knowledge in this field, besides socially responsible relationships and participatory budgeting.

The workshop will be organized in the frame of SIA4Y project– Strengthening civil society rights by information access for European youth, led by the Polish Economic Society in Gdansk (PL).

If you are eager to know about our project and next activities, and if you would like to leave your comments, you can visit the website civicyouth.eu.

Stay tuned and save the date 7th March 2019!

The event venue will be Ratusz Staromiejski (Town hall)

Stary Rynek 25, Elbląg (PL).

N.B. Agenda and link for registration will be available in January.

The content of this website is the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union, the Managing Authority or the Joint Secretariat of the South Baltic Cross-border Cooperation Programme 2014-2020. The project UMBRELLA is partly financed from the Interreg South Baltic Programme 2014-2020 through the European Regional Development Fund.