The SPD is presenting a new transparency law – which admittedly has no prospect of being implemented quickly. Nevertheless, it is earning cheers.
Are there UFOs? The SPD’s planned Freedom of Information Act could provide clarity. Picture: reuters
There is only one paragraph in the "government program" of the SPD, and it consists of only 58 words. That’s not much for a work of 120 pages. It says that the SPD wants to push for a comprehensive transparency law at the federal level. On Wednesday, the SPD parliamentary group presented a draft for this. It is impossible that it will be implemented before the election. Nevertheless, there was encouragement.
This is because the draft – drawn up with the help of the German Society for Freedom of Information – envisages a small revolt in the battle for state knowledge: A Freedom of Information and Transparency Act is to replace the many different information laws. Under this law, public authorities would be obliged to post information in central data portals – such as draft laws or public contracts. It would also make it easier for citizens to request information.
Currently, citizens already have the option of requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Information Act or the Consumer Information Act. However, journalists’ associations, civil rights activists and democracy campaigners have complained for years that the laws are too weak in practice. For example, the attempt to obtain the 2009 report of the Bundestag’s Scientific Service, which provides information on the existence of UFOs, caused a stir. In April, Die Zeit reported on how inventive authorities are in circumventing their obligations.
And now a hopeless SPD proposal – in election campaign times? The chairman of the German Journalists’ Association, Michael Konken, nevertheless welcomed the initiative on Wednesday: "A comprehensive transparency law at the federal level is long overdue. Actually all parties would have to join this initiative today." Claudine Nierth, spokeswoman for Mehr Demokratie, also told the site: "On the subject of transparency, the SPD has moved a lot in recent years. Putting the issue in the election campaign allows us to measure the SPD on it after the election."
Hamburg is transparent
In fact, there are already several transparency initiatives in SPD-led states. Rhineland-Palatinate and Bremen, for example, have public information registers. North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony are currently drafting transparency laws. In SPD-ruled Hamburg, the entire parliament unanimously introduced Germany’s most comprehensive transparency law to date.
Nevertheless, there was criticism on Wednesday. The open government expert and pirate Anke Domscheit-Berg criticized the initiative as vague and imprecise. She said the draft was "a patchwork law written for the election campaign and not a targeted implementation of an open-government strategy." Stefan Wehrmeyer, founder of fragdenstaat.de, said, "The draft is a right step, but does not go far enough. We need a right to freedom of information in the Basic Law. The SPD only voted against this in April."