Danish Pro-Access Majority Refrains From Using Power

4 May 2016

By Staffan Dahllöf

The author is a freelance journalist.

There is now a majority in the Danish parliament for amending a much-criticised law on access to public information adopted in 2013. Yet this majority is not likely to take use of its possible power, due to different political strategies.

Three of the critical parties – the Conservatives, The People’s Socialist Party and the Radical Left, a centre liberal party despite its revolutionary name –all voted for the law when it was adopted three years ago.

The three parties now have second thoughts and share the criticisms of civil society, but are refraining from take part in a majority that could outvote the incumbent liberal minority government in this case.

Their reason for holding back their fire is to stick to a political agreement made before the law was adopted. By upholding a political agreement the three parties want to stay trustworthy in the eyes of the others for the future.

This has become an increasingly common pattern in Danish politics, leaving very little room for amendments during the scrutiny process in the parliament’s committees, and making changes of laws more difficult once an agreement has been signed.

On the other hand, such agreements bind the parties not the change a criticised law unless they all agree, giving the influence of a veto also to small parties.

Three other critical parties either believe a revision of the law is more important than preserving the culture of political agreements, or did not take part in the agreement in the first place.

The law has led to some positive changes on access on a local and regional level, and to a better accessibility of databases. But its major impact has been to withdraw certain types of documents totally from being accessible.

This goes for documents drawn up by civil servants in order to serve a minister in his or her duty now or in the future. Document used in informal political deliberations are also kept outside the scope of the law.

The Social Democrats and the Liberal Venstre are both still in favour of the law being the two parties in Danish politics with the longest tradition of forming governments.

An amendment of the law should not be ruled out entirely nevertheless. The critical parties still backing the agreement say they will try to convince the last defenders of the law to change their mind, but at a later stage.

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