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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness Gains Wide Endorsement in Europe

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, August 7 2013

Since the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness was introduced last September, it has garnered more than 120 endorsements from civil society organizations in 74 countries. This month, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) became the first international institution to endorse the declaration.

The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness is “a set of shared principles on the openness, transparency and accessibility of parliaments.” The Declaration began with a meeting of parliamentary monitoring organizations hosted by the National Democratic Institute, Sunlight Foundation and Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency in April 2012.

“The document essentially gives any parliament a roadmap to help their institutions improve interaction with the citizens it represents,” wrote Ranko Krivokapic, President of the Parliament of Montenegro as well as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

In my home country, Montenegro, we have a growing tradition of openness where the public can view our sessions from committee to plenary, and see public procurement information online and have it delivered upon request.

Despite the successes of a number of individual parliaments in making their institutions and data more open to the public, generally parliaments have been slower to engage in international partnerships to help lead the movement toward more open government. This is beginning to change. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where we have advocated for greater governmental transparency and accountability for 20 years, it is only logical that we would be the first parliamentary assembly to express support for collective action to improve parliamentary openness as well. . .

In an assembly like ours, dedicated to international dialogue, having parliaments using new technology to make legislation and debates accessible online also helps further our goals, making it easier for policy ideas being enacted in one country to be replicated in harmony ten time zones away.

Some have questioned the potential effectiveness of the Declaration, including techPresident's David Eaves, who wrote last September:

But how effective will such a declaration be? Hard to tell. My suspicion is that such a global partnership of organizations seeking legislative transparency likely has the best hope of success among governments that already have a strong streak of transparency to them, such as Sweden and Norway. They may also find traction among emerging democracies where outdated and opaque processes have not become hallowed "traditions" and where notions of transparency and accountability have real meaning to both the public at large and to elected officials.

Eaves also expressed doubt that the declaration would have much of an impact on traditional Western democracies. Perhaps the endorsement from OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which includes representatives from 57 nations in Europe, Central Asia and North America, will yet prove his bleak suspicion wrong.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.