Two reasons why the EU should join the Open Government Partnership

Today, a group of civil society organisations, including the Web Foundation, launched a call to the European Union to join the Open Government Partnership – the world’s leading alliance for transparent, accountable and responsive governance.

There are two big reasons why we think the EU should commit to the OGP without delay. First, the EU needs the OGP. And second, the OGP needs the EU.

1. The EU needs the OGP

Trust in the European Union as an institution has plummeted. In polls done over the past three years, only around one in three European citizens said that they trusted they EU – half as many as in 2009. (Source: Eurobarometer)

Like any political project, the future of the European Union depends on the willingness of different interest groups to make concessions in order to achieve a greater good. This is hard enough within a single country. Within a union of dozens of countries, agreeing on who sacrifices what is extraordinarily testing – as demonstrated by bitterly divided opinion across Europe on the Greek bailout.

In recent years, these challenges have increased dramatically for Europe. Ambitious moves to incorporate new states on the periphery of “old” Europe are one reason. The fallout from the global financial crisis is another, further widening the economic gap between Europe’s powerhouses and its poorer members, and helping to fuel new waves of nationalism and xenophobia.

In response, the EU needs to up its game. The Eurovision Song Contest is no longer enough. As the joint letter observes,  “the EU’s structures and processes are difficult for citizens to understand, and there is a widespread perception of a lack of transparency and accountability.” In fact, more than half of European citizens surveyed last year believed their voice does not count in the EU.

Experience from elsewhere suggests that involving all stakeholders in developing a Europe-wide OGP action plan could help to build consensus and trust across member states old and new, shoring up commitment to the European project of “freedom, security and justice”.

Joining the OGP would also open doors for European parliamentarians, civil servants, and CSOs to begin to think in new ways about how to close the EU’s much-lamented democratic deficit, signalling an intention and openness to learn from new experiences in the OGP’s 65 member countries, on initiatives ranging from open data to participatory budgeting to crowdsourcing policy and legislation.

2. The OGP needs the EU.

In a globalised world, transparency and accountability can’t stop at national borders.

The increasing integration of global supply chains and the rise of giant multi-national corporations has become a well-rehearsed lament for everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to Marine LePen. But despite politicians’ rhetoric, national governments and national civil society actors simply lack the tools and means to solve the governance challenges of a globalised economy by themselves.

Regional and global bodies come into their own when they can foster coordinated transparency and accountability measures that enable national actors to work together on cross-border challenges (such as tax avoidance, digital privacy, environmental degradation, trade justice or the shadow banking system). The positive impact of the EU data protection law – which has set a standard that many non-European countries are now starting to follow – is a good example.

Opportunities for regional coordination are also increasingly important to the effectiveness and efficiency of government and community groups at local and provincial level. One example is access to data held by local or national bodies in other countries. For instance, in Southern Africa, the creation of a shared database on the prices paid for essential medicines has not only helped national health ministries but also local clinics and health authorities.

In short, the open government movement stands a far better chance of success if the European Union, and other regional bodies, come to the party.

Conclusion

 

As the joint letter states, the OGP presents the European Union with “a clear opportunity for renewal of social and civic engagement, for restoration of faith in the EU institutions, and for securing and fortifying the EU’s global reputation.” The European Parliament should take the lead on bringing the EU into the OGP by the time of the next global summit on open government in Mexico this October.

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