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Possible International “Package Solution” Formats on the Balkans Issue

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina and Dejan Novakovic*

Presently, an extremely unstable situation has developed in the Balkans, with a potentially adverse effect both on the Balkan countries and on the system of international relations as a whole. Intraregional actors are not able to cope with problems that have befallen them. Over the past two decades, they have not been able to attain any considerable progress in solving these problems, although they have managed to keep the dialogue going on all these years. External players pursue first and foremost their own interests in the Balkans. As a rule, they only slightly match with the real needs of the region and its population. Moreover, lately they have been concerned more with the policies dictated to them by an escalation of tensions between regional players.

Present-day situation

The European Union offered all the Balkan peoples a so-called “European future”. The political elites and the population of the countries belonging to the region cannot imagine themselves without such a future. Although the percentage of Euro-optimists among the population has gradually decreased, integration into Europe is still considered a natural process and, seemingly, the only possible choice for the Balkans. The EU and its member states have accumulated so much of their own crisis potential for the moment that it is impossible for them to cope with all the challenges that are shattering the region. Brussels simply has neither resources, nor desire to do it.

The United States is pushing forward only those decisions that assure their influence on the pan-European processes as well as strengthen their positions in the global confrontation. Russia, China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, which are accumulating more and more influence in the region, taken separately, are not so powerful. In any case, they are simply not able to offer any alternative to the “European choice”. However, they have never even planned to offer an alternative.

Most politicians and commentators agree that, as a result, the Balkans are turning into a tinderbox, just as they were a century ago. Existing problems are still not solved, while new ones are appearing on the horizon. Bilateral negotiations are dragging. Moreover, everything is happening either all by itself or through intermediary participation and even dominance influence of the US and the EU. Any attempts either to find unconventional approaches, or to put forward some new breakthrough initiatives are immediately extinguished by external players. In order to move the situation off the ground at least a bit, and achieve favorable dynamics, intra-regional political actors begin to use tactics of provocations, forcing all external players to react. The point is that this tactics only strengthens confrontational tendencies around the globe.

It seems, there is no indication that external actors will refuse to act unilaterally, and intra-regional political forces will suddenly become negotiable. However, it is also impossible to leave the situation on its own as well as to give a “carte blanche” to those who prefer destructive policies thus harming the Balkans and its peoples and the prospects for a comprehensive, sustainable, fair and comprehensive settlement.

Under these circumstances, it would be extremely advantageous and timely for Russia to offer a multilateral format of a “general Balkan settlement,” which would be undoubtedly beneficial to all intra-Balkan political actors and extra-regional powers as well. For the former, it would provide an opportunity to proceed with mutual exchanges on a wide range of issues, which are unlikely to be achieved through bilateral negotiations, and to obtain all necessary guarantees of stability and sustainable economic development. For the latter, it would suppress negative developments in the Balkans and minimize risks both within and beyond the region. At the same time, it will make it possible to turn the Balkans from the everlasting “apple of discord” into a well-built platform for cooperation, and, if successful, into an instrument that would be designed to weaken confrontation between all major actors, which has gone too far, as well as to redirect the entire system of international relations to a more peaceful path.

Even if such a proposal is met with hostility, it should be put forward. It will show who is a true friend and a true defender of the Balkan peoples’ interests, and for whom, adversely, their geopolitical ambitions and their own selfish interests are on top of any other considerations.

Some of the Lucrative “Multilateral Format” Scenarios

1.Regardless of the resolution of the post-Yugoslav heritage problems, formation of a permanent “Balkan Council” is a top priority. It would include representatives of Russia, the US, Great Britain, Turkey, France, Italy, Slovenia and Germany as international observers, with mediation on the part of the EU and the UN, and also envoys of all the Western Balkan countries. The logical way to give life to this format is to reframe and accelerate the work of the Regional Cooperation Council (created 10 years ago on the basis of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe; Russia, the US, and China took part in the deliberations of the Council, with the EU playing the main role).

2.Another scenario is the “Permanent Balkan Conference” led by the EU and mediated by high representatives from the U.S. and Russia. Such a decision could be enforced by changing the format of the Brussels talks, and with the consent of the Albanian and Serbian parties.

3.The third scenario is the “Permanent Balkan Conference — broad version” under the leadership of the UN Security Council. It would imply an increase in the number of Balkan negotiators and would entail a number of various territorial exchanges, based not so much on ethnicity, but on the geopolitical interests of each of the Balkan countries as well as on the guaranteed viability of such exchanges. In this case, territorial exchanges would be accompanied by the acceptance of regional economic interests as one of the end-results of the accession to the EU of all countries in the region. Thus, the newly created boundaries would have a positive symbolic value in the context of day-to-day life.

4.The fourth scenario is the creation of the “Balkan Union” modeled on the EU. Turkey, as an “eternal” candidate for the EU, might join such a “Union.” This scenario is most likely to be the least acceptable for Brussels, which wouldn’t like to see Southeastern Europe being capable of addressing Western Europe on an equal footing or very close to being equal. However, in the context of the recent developments, this scenario is considered to be the most rational one for the Balkan states themselves.

Long-term Scenario of a “Package” Settlement

The “spontaneous” territorial organization designed for the Balkan peoples did not bode well with them. Some representatives of the local establishment and the expert community pass the verdict that it ”failed miserably.”

Ethnic groups are divided between different political entities. And they do not always feel comfortable there. Their vital interests are threatened, and it is possible to keep them from possible collisions and redistributions only due to some external factors.

Many countries and regional entities alone are simply not viable. Their successful future can be associated exclusively with integration, association, alliances, searching for some other forms and components of statehood. They are able to exist normally only under external control or as a part of some other entity.

The entire political, social and economic space of the region is fragmented. These fragments are dispersed chaotically, but they are holding onto each other. However, reorganization of its format is again impeded mainly because of various external factors. Obviously, if it goes as erratically as in the first half of the 1990s, it will end in tragedy.

At the same time, it is at least unreasonable and pointless to ignore the real situation. Maintaining the artificial existence of ethno-national and territorial delimitation is leading nowhere. It will generate tensions, fuel various extreme nationalists and populists, accumulate crisis potential, which is already big enough. Therefore, within the region, as well as among the international expert communities, various actors and their configurations are holding a nonstop informal discussion in order to outline possible scenarios of the Balkans settlement in a long run.

Among the external actors, the UK is the one to be the most active supporter of the creation of “ethnocentric states”, namely, “great” Albania, “great” Serbia, and “great” Croatia. This scenario would mean the following territorial exchange:

“Great” Albania: the Republic of Albania, most of Kosovo, part of Macedonia, part of Serbia (Bujanovac and Presevo), Ulcinj part of Montenegro;

“Great” Serbia: the Republic of Serbia, the Republika Srpska with access to the sea in the Herceg Novi region (Montenegro) and the Serbian communities in the north of Kosovo, including North Mitrovica;

“Great” Croatia: Republic of Croatia, the third “entitet” in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Herceg Bosna (Herzeg-Bosnia));

Montenegro would receive a part of the Serbian Sandzak;

Bosnia and Herzegovina within the borders of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the possible option of creating a confederation with Croatia / Serbia / Montenegro;

Macedonia would be in a worse position, left without most of its own territory. Moreover, a tendency to tear the remains among Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Serbia is notable here. One of possible scenarios for Macedonia in this case is to form a confederation with Bulgaria or Serbia.

Only nationalist population of the region could support such a radical scenario, it would seriously shut off the Balkans from the EU in mid-term perspective. At the same time, in a long run, in the context of the region, this is one of the options for a long-term settlement of existing national problems.

The Importance of Provisional and Interim Measures

If the EU includes the whole mass of the region peoples implicitly overwhelmed with smoldering conflicts, that would entail its disorganization and weakening in its capability to resist external manipulation. On the contrary, if the EU doesn’t include the peoples, that would issue the verdict for the entire European project. In principle, the pan-European establishment understands this, although such a prospect really scares it.

However, in the context of Balkans, the EU rarely spoke with one voice. In other words, Member States that are actively spreading their policy outwards have very different goals in the region. Great Britain tends to support the Albanians at the expense of all other ethno-national formations of the region. France has a different vision: for Paris the most important thing is to protect its political and economic interests in a larger European region. That’s why the country is ready for certain exchanges. The disorder and strife of Balkan society are flowing into the neighboring countries. Thus, it is important for them to ensure its long-term stability and crisis-free development.

Germany takes an intransigent position regarding any territorial exchanges. As a result, it largely dominates the European Union. Berlin insists that it is totally unacceptable to implement any territorial exchanges and reorganize the Balkan political space as a whole. Any attempts will lead to the “Pandora’s box” opening with unpredictable consequences for the territorial organization of not only the region, but also of Europe in general. The whole post-war order across the continent will be threatened as well. This will undermine the legitimacy of all previous decisions. This will provide the grounds for raising the question of demarcations and territorial exchanges, inclusions and compensations in each part of the world. In this case, taking into account the artificial character of those processes, similar to the Balkans issue, there will be hell to pay.

In this respect, one cannot but agree with Berlin. Indeed, the “Pandora’s Box” should never be opened. The point here is that such an effect could be entailed by any bilateral private agreement on exchanges and revisions getting beyond multilateral inclusive format and “package solution,” especially under pressure from Washington, following nothing but its own geopolitical ambitions. It will be extremely difficult to control further destructive processes awakened by this approach in the future. At least, if it’s even possible.

However, including them in any of the above-mentioned multilateral formats changes the picture considerably. Firstly, it allows you to supply any action with organized and controlled character. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to combine all political decisions, which are separately unacceptable, belonging to different periods, into a single “package,” coordinated and approved by all. Thirdly, it opens the prospects of providing solid international guarantees for the “package settlement” on the spot. Fourthly, it establishes the rules of the game clear and acceptable to all players.

Thus, if the main intra-regional political actors as well as the external ones show goodwill and make bold enough to “split the Balkan knot” in the interests of the Balkan peoples, rather than in favor of some abstractions and geopolitical ambitions, each of them will be able to make a proportionate contribution to the common “Balkans issue” settlement. Such a contribution could consist in:

(1) rejecting any informational, military, political and economic provocations;

(2) supporting general legal regime of free economic activity for the whole region without any signs of discrimination;

(3) having a positive political influence on all those political forces, with which privileged relations are maintained;

(4) providing all necessary comprehensive international safeguards;

(5) financing the accelerated development of the region and the implementation of diverse economic projects that are useful and beneficial to its people.

* Dejan Novakovic, President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia)

First published in our partner RIAC

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Europe

Russia-EU break possible but unwanted

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Pressures in relations between Russia and the West have recently become so strained that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned of the possibility of a complete break in ties.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based academic and diplomatic think tank established upon a presidential decree, assessed how real the threat is and what consequences it could lead to.

It is necessary to make it clear what “a possible break with the EU” means – whether cutting relations with individual European countries or with European Union structures, said Kortunov.

“If we talk about EU countries, we shouldn’t forget that they now account for more than 40% of Russia’s trade turnover, they are the main source of investments and technologies that go to Russia. No one is ready to give up on this, and no one will,” he said.

As for structures of the EU bloc, in general, a break would be possible, but it would be both unwanted and unwelcomed, he said.

Kortunov noted that cooperation between Russia and the EU shrank in recent years, and a great many of the structures established to build bilateral ties have been closed.

“For example, in the past, we regularly held EU-Russia summits twice a year – in the first half of the year in Russia, in the second half in the EU presiding country or in Brussels,” he explained.

“Now such summits do not take place. The number of working groups that work in specific areas has decreased.”

Following this logic, breaking or freezing the remaining ties is possible but it is an extremely unwanted scenario because it is impossible to have good relations with European countries – EU members – and not have any relations with the EU itself, Kortunov said.

“A number of important issues lay within the competency of the European Union, including but not limited to trade and scientific and technical cooperation,” he said.

He warned: “Sooner or later, our projects with individual countries will run into unresolved issues at the level of the EU bureaucracy. Therefore, in principle – I repeat once again – a break is possible, but it is extremely unwanted because it is fraught with many negative consequences.”

Cooperation in ‘non-toxic’ areas

The EU is interested in cooperation with Russia as well, as it is a big market and important partner, he added.

Russia also plays an important role in the Middle East, and the situation in the region directly affects life in the EU, so cooperation on regional conflicts is another important part of Russian-EU interaction, said Kortunov.

To defuse the situation, he said, both sides have to exercise caution in their rhetoric.

“It’s one thing for members of parliament to say something critical, and quite another for the decision-makers in the executive branch to do that. The latter should exercise as much restraint as possible,” said Kortunov.

Cooperation in “non-toxic” areas, where Russia and the EU can work together despite political differences without making any difficult concessions, would also contribute to building trust, he said.

“And we need an open discussion with the EU about how we see ourselves in the world in five, 10, maybe more years,” he said.

“We need a strategic dialogue, which is not currently being conducted, at least I do not know that it is being conducted. And then we can gradually correct the relationship.”

Foreign Minister Lavrov said last week that the EU had been breaking bilateral mechanisms established under agreements on partnership and cooperation.

Asked if Russia is heading for a breach with the EU, Lavrov said he believed Moscow would be ready for it, and the country has to become fully economically self-sufficient in case sanctions are imposed in a sphere where they could risk the Russian economy.

From our partner RIAC

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Dara of Jasenovac

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The region that we now call Western Balkans does not remember that the realization of a movie caused many reactions and comments as ” Dara of Jasenovac”. The movie deals with the most painful topic in Serbian history – the genocide that Croats and Bosnian Muslims committed against the Serbian people in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, in the Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II.

All Nazi concentration camps after the end of the World War II were preserved to this day, so that the memory of the crimes would not fade. Millions of visitors come to Auschwitz, Dachau and other death camps, and pay their respects to the innocent victims. When in December 2009 from a museum in Auschwitz the “Arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free) sign was stolen, it was a planetary news. The sign was found after less than a month, although broken into three parts, which was again world news.

But few, outside of the Balkans, have heard about the Jasenovac extermination camp in Croatia, which was never liberated, but instead saw roughly 1,000 inmates escape in the hope that at least one of them would live to tell the world about the horrors of being imprisoned by the Croat Nazi-aligned puppet government that was appointed to rule a part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia.

Israeli professor Gideon Greif, an expert on Auschwitz, researched the history of Jasenovac, which resulted in his book Jasenovac: Auschwitz of the Balkans. The Croat-run Jasenovac extermination camp was the size of about 150 football pitches and was established on April 10, 1941, four days after Nazi Germany invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The wartime Independent State of Croatia, or NDH, was a Fascist satellite that was created by Nazi Germany and Hitler’s closest ally, Mussolini’s Italy. Under its leader, Ante Pavelic, the NDH set out to exterminate the Serbs, Jews and Roma who lived in the areas that were under their control – the Jasenovac camp was built to serve this purpose.

What made Jasenovac particularly cruel was the existence of a special camp for children where more than 20,000 Serbian children were brutally murdered. The methods used by the Croat guards to kill and torture the inmates were reportedly so barbaric that even SS chief Heinrich Himmler is believed to have suggested to the Croats that industrial killing, i.e. gas chambers, was a “cleaner way” to liquidate victims so that the guards wouldn’t need to use knives, axes, and other handheld weapons against those that they were sending to their deaths. Menachem Shelah, a historian with the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, wrote in 1990 that “the crimes committed in Jasenovac are among the most terrible in the entire history of humanity.”

Historians have estimated that between 700,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed at Jasenovac. The Nazis, themselves, recorded up to 750,000 deaths. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, the Croatian government has continually insisted that only 83,000 people were killed at Jasenovac. Croatia’s first post-Yugoslav president, Franjo Tudjman, an unabashed nationalist and the man responsible for restoring the Ustase-era flag as the national symbol of Croatia, insisted until his death in December 1999 that a mere 30,000-40,000 people died while imprisoned at Jasenovac.

The total number of deaths that occurred at Jasenovac may never be known as concerted attempts to suppress the extent of the horrors of the camp continue to this day. This, however, is not a new process. Immediately after World War II, Yugoslavia’s Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, played down the crimes that were committed at Jasenovac as they were seen as a potential threat to the “brotherhood and unity” doctrine of Tito’s Yugoslavia.

“Dara of Jasenovac“ is the first film dedicated to the Nazi Croat camp Jasenovac for mass extermination of Serbs. The decision of the authorities to show the movie “Dara of Jasenovac” simultaneously on the public services of Serbia and Republic of Srpska, as well as on commercial television in Montenegro, was  the right decision in the public interest.

It should be noted that the film Dara from Jasenovac has not only a historical role, but also a geopolitical one. Republic of Srpska has been under pressure since its inception in 1995, with the ultimate goal of abolishing it. There is a whole list of Hollywood films in which Serbs and their struggle in the wars of the 1990s were shown in a negative context. The aim was to show the Serbs as evil and Republic of Srpska as a criminal creation. The ideologues of this theory were the Bosnian Muslim political leaders and the financiers were predominantly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. That is why “Dara of Jasenovac“ has not only historical and artistic value, but also has a geopolitical one.

`We should continue to make films that will show the suffering of the Serbian people throughout history. I think that we will adopt it, not only as a program act, but also as a program of the Government of Republic of Srpska, to treat Serbian victims in the Independent State of Croatia in the right way“, said Serbian member and chairman of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik, after the premiere of “Dara of Jasenovac“.  This statement shows that the leading Serbian politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina has strategic thinking, and that is to be commended. All that remains is, that Milorad Dodik should be supported in this plan by other Serbian institutions and especially by the state of Serbia.

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Council of Europe fights for your Right to Know, too

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Authors: Eugene Matos de Lara and Audrey Beaulieu

“People have the right to know what those in power are doing” -Dunja Mijatovic Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights.

Access to information legislation was first seen in 1766 in Sweden, with parliamentary interest to access information held by the King. Finland in 1951, the United States in 1966, and Norwayin 1970 also adopted similar legislation. Today there are 98 states with access laws; of these, more than 50 incorporated in their constitution. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights 2006 and the European Court of Human Rights 2009 both ruled that access to information is a human right, confirmed in July 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a sine qua non of 21st-century democracy.

Global civil society movements have been promoting transparency, with activists and journalists reporting daily on successes in obtaining information and denouncing obstacles and frustrations in the implementation of this right. To this end, the Council of Europe was inspired by pluralistic and democratic ideals for greater European unity, adopted the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents recognising a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. It brings a minimum standard for the fair processing of requests for access to official documents with the obligation for member states to secure independent review for restricted documents unless with held if the protection of the documents is considered legitimate.

The right to freedom of information

Access to information is a government scrutiny tool. Without it, human rights violations, corruption cases, and anti-democratic practices would never be uncovered. Besides exposing demerits, the policy is also known to improve the quality of public debates while increasing participation in the decision making process. Indeed, transparency of authorities should be regarded as a fundamental precondition for the enjoyment of fundamental rights, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The policy equips citizens and NGOs with the necessary tool to counter refusal from authorities to provide information. The European Court of Human Rights recognized that withheld documents could be accessed in specific circumstances. In principle, all information should be available, and those upheld can also be accessed, particularly when access to that particular information is crucial for the individual or group to exercise their freedoms unless of course, the information is of national security or of private nature.

Access to information in times of crisis a first line weapon against fake news

The COVID pandemic has enabled us to test access policies and benchmark the effectiveness of the right to know during trivial times, as Dunja Mijatovic mentioned. In fact, having easy access to reliable information protects the population from being misled and misinformed, a first-line weapon dismantling popular fake news and conspiracies. Instead, during COVID, access to information has supported citizens in responding adequately to the crisis. Ultimately, transparency is also a trust-building exercise.

Corruption and environmental issues

Information is a weapon against corruption. The Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) is looking at the specific issue of access to official documents in the context of its Fifth Evaluation Round, which focuses on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments and law enforcement agencies. In about a third of the reports published so far, GRECO has recommended the state to improve access to official documents. In regards to the environment, the United Nations Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, commonly referred to as the Aarhus Convention, expands the right of access to information on environmental matters thus complementing the Tromsø Convention. Declaring these policies as the primary tools that empower citizens and defenders to protect the environment we live in.

Good models exist

Most Council of Europe member states have adequate mechanisms regarding the right to information. For example, in Estonia, “the Public Information Act provides for broad disclosure of public information” states Mijatovic. Moreover, “in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and several other countries there is an independent oversight body – such as an Information Commissioner – responsible for monitoring and enforcing the right to information, while some other countries entrust Parliamentary Ombudsmen with supervision of the right of access to information”. Finally, “the constitutions of several European countries do indeed guarantee the fundamental right to information.” Nonetheless, there are still in consistent levels of transparency among state institutions or a failure to meet the requirement for proactive disclosure. The entry into force of the Tromso Convention willbe an opportunity to bring back to the table the importance of the right to information and to read just European States practices regarding the enhancement.

Barriers and Challenges

Digitization is still recent, and authorities are not accustomed to dealing openly. There is a sentiment of reservation and caution. Before the advent of the internet, governments enjoyed a level of political efficiency and practical obscurity. Viewing public records required the time and effort of a visit to the records’ physical location and prevented easy access to details of individual files. Openness has made the policy cycle longer, with a more thorough consultation process and debates. The availability of digital documents has caused an unavoidable conflict.

One of the conflicts is a privacy protection and policy safeguards invoked against freedom of information requests. Requirements to provide transparency of activities must be mitigated with national security, individuals’ safety, corporate interests, and citizens’ right to privacy. Finding the right balance is essential to understand how local governments manage the dichotomy between providing open access to their records by maintaining the public’s privacy rights.

Several governments think twice before pursuing transparency policies. Access to information hasn’t been a priority for some of the European States. Mijatovic reported that “filtering of information and delays in responses to freedom of information requests have been observed in several member states”. Although there is a growth in these laws’ popularity, we are always a step behind meeting the supply and demand of information objectives in an era of digitization.

Legal perspectives

Tromso Convention has only been ratified by eleven countries, which are mostly located in Scandinavia (Finland, Norway and Sweden) or in Eastern Europe (Bosnia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldavia and Ukraine). Reading this statement, three questions should come to our minds:

1.    Why not all European states have ratified Tromso Convention?

2.    Why do Scandinavian countries have chosen to ratify the Convention?

3.    Why are most of the Member States from Eastern Europe?

Regarding the first question, the answer resides in the fact that the ones who haven’t taken part in the Convention already have strong national laws protecting freedom of information and don’t need to bother with extra protection and external surveillance. For instance, Germany passed a law in 2005, promoting the unconditional right to access information. Many other European states such as Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France &Poland have similar national law.

Regarding the second question, considering that all Scandinavian countries already have national laws assessing freedom of information, the most likely reason behind their ratification would be symbolic support to the cause or because the Convention’s framework is less restrictive than their national laws.

Finally, concerning the last question, we could suppose that most Eastern countries have an interest in demonstrating themselves as more transparent, more following the rule of law. For example, if we examine Montenegro’s case, we could assume that taking part in the Tromso Convention is a step closer to their accession to the EU in 2025.

As for the reservations that have been made, only Finland, Norway and Sweden have made some noticeable. Regarding Norway, the country declared that “communication with the reigning Family and its Household” will remain private in accordance with Article 3,paragraph 1 of the Convention. This limitation covers something interesting, considering that, as mentioned earlier, access to the data type of legislation was first adopted in order to get access to information held by the King. In parallel, Finland declared that “the provisions of Article 8 of the Convention concerning the review procedure [will] not apply to a decision made by the President of the Republic in response to a request for access to a document. Article 8 provides protection against arbitrary decisions and allows members of the population to assert their right to information. Sweden has made a similarreservation on Article 8 paragraph 1 regarding “decisions taken by the Government, ministers and the Parliamentary Ombudsmen”.

Thoughts towards better implementation

For smoother data access implementation, governments can act on transparency without waiting for legislation through internal bureaucratic policy. These voluntary provisions for openness can be an exercise towards a more organic cultural transformation.

Lengthy debates on open access are entertained by exceptions to access. To be sure, governments have enough legal and political tools to withhold information, regardless of how exemptions have been drafted. Instead, a more productive and efficient process is possible if we concentrate on positive implementation and enforcement, including the procedures for challenges on legal exemptions.

The implementation phase of access laws is challenging due to a lack of leadership motivation, inadequate support for those implementing these requests, especially since they require a long term social and political commitment. To do so, an overall dedication and government bureaucratic cultural shift should take place. Although the implementation of access to information should be included internally in all departments, considering a standardized centralized approach to lead the new regime with authority could send an important message. Record keeping and archiving should be updated to respond to requests with improved information management systems. As such, the goal would be to make a plethora of information immediately and unconditionally available.

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