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250,000 secret US embassy cables have been published by Wikileaks and some of the most influential and respected newspapers in Europe and in the US have made the choice of conveying this scoop. What can we learn? So far not a lot: “Teflon Merkel” is risk averse, Sarkozy is a “naked emperor”, Putin’s nickname is alpha dog. And many other similar futile pieces of gossip.
For the apostles of transparency this publication serves the most legitimate purpose in a democracy which is to tell the whole truth. On newspapers’ websites, most readers heartily approve of the enterprise: this is the revenge of the people on the establishment and Julian Assange (spokesman of Wikileaks) has given it a damn good thrashing. “They” cannot fool us anymore.
This is a sad and fruitless development which, again, sacrifices analysis against gross information and sensationalism.
People claim their right to know. Fair enough. But what kind of knowledge is offered today? Is it really important to inform the world about how governmental officials depict national leaders amongst themselves? Should we, as citizens, have a right and a duty to check and approve every e-mail sent by our governmental administrations? That seems absolute madness to me.
Total transparency does not necessarily mean total democracy – it is rather a result of total mistrust. This is unfortunately the situation today. The information making the headlines is not intended to help readers better understand international politics nor does it reveal some kind of massive and reprehensible fraud. It only aims to discredit governmental institutions on the excuse that “we all ought to be informed”.
I refuse this information because, sincerest apologies, I trust more the competency and professionalism of the politicians whom we elect and their teams of specialised diplomats in conducting our countries’ diplomacy than the one of my neighbours. This is what we call representative democracy.
On Monday, Lifehacker reported [via Gawker, via The Rumpus] that you really shouldn’t trust facebook with your private data. This latest claim, while not surprising, is based on an anonymous interview with a facebook employee who has spilt the beans on privacy inside the Stanford Research Park-based company. This is what makes this revelation just that little bit more interesting.
The woman, who according to the interview still works at facebook, has divulged information about a ‘master password’, for instance, which allows any facebook employee to unlock any user account, giving them full access to your photos, your wall, and your private inbox with all the implied repercussions.
“When I first started working there yes. I used it to view other people’s profiles which I didn’t have permission to visit”, says the anonymous employee in the interview. The use of the master password has since this summer been discouraged, but it might still exist. Apparently it was something along the lines of ‘Chuck Norris’ combined with a slew of upper and lower case symbols and numbers. facebook has created a Chief Officer position for privacy issues – Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly – who interestingly is running for Attorney General of California.
Meanwhile, facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ruffled a few feathers last Friday when he proclaimed during the 2009 Crunchies Awards ceremonies that privacy is becoming less important to online users…
We’re not so sure…
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council of the European Union “is obliged to meet in public when it deliberates and votes on European legislation”.
Good, it makes everyone’s jobs easier, except perhaps for Ministers and diplomats. But will it work? Doubtful.
As one journalist informed The Lobby, the breakfast meeting of one of this week’s Council meetings lasted until two in the afternoon!
Apparently, diplomats were stuck outside the negotiating room drinking coffee for hours, unable to follow the breakfast meeting via their usual listening room (adjacent to the negotiation room), as they no longer have this option under the new Treaty.
This was echoed by a Council official The Lobby spoke to earlier in the week, who stated when asked how negotiations during a certain Council were going, “I don’t even have access”.
This begs the question of whether Lisbon has taken us from closed sessions to eternal breakfasts and never-ending lunches – effectively turning these into closed sessions, out of sight of the web streaming cameras.
In the quest for more transparent decision-making, have we ended up with an even more opaque Council?
Let alone climate change, transparency in decision-making is definitely the hot topic in Brussels. So much so that Logos Public Affairs has invited the Euro PA community to a party celebrating the sizzling concept. The Lobby has already had intense discussions on what transparency exactly means in the context of a party but, as in the process of decision-making, everyone has his or her own opinion…
The party will take place on Friday 2 October at Le Bouche à Oreille, 11 Félix Hapstraat in Brussels and profits from the event will be donated to Reporters Sans Frontières. See invitation flyer and registration form here.
This year’s European elections seem to be all about transparency. In this very line of thought another study throwing light on MEPs’ commitment to attending Committee and Plenary sessions has been published by Open Europe with the aim of giving an ‘unbiased view’ on what is seen as MEPs’ performance at work in the Parliament.
Statistics can however be misleading when they are not explained and instead taken as hard facts. This is exactly where transparency initiatives lead to confusion. The ranking established by Open Europe positions several of the most important leaders of the European Parliament within the least active batch of MEPs. By focusing on figures only, the study misses out on a key part of those MEPs’ job which is to represent their institution, lead their political group, build up alliances, and connect with their constituencies (and act as dealmakers behind the scenes).
Transparency, and meeting attendance, is important but should not be the ultimate and only benchmarks used in order to assess MEPs’ performance. If however that is the case, “good” MEPs will just need to show up…
MEPs voting and attendance records to Committee and Plenary sessions are being duly scrutinised since VoteWatch.eu was launched on 11 May (see Close-up on voting records). Several MEPs have already been hauled over the coals (sometimes unfairly) and suddenly been put into the uncomfortable position of justifying a weak score. Transparency is definitely the order of the day and this is no bad thing.
But who is scrutinising candidates who already know that they will never, ever, take up a seat in Strasbourg? How many of these ghost-candidates top their party lists for the EU elections across Europe? Does honesty carry less weight than transparency?