It was all about transparency this weekend in Germany, and here’s why.
German’s largest opposition party, the SPD, has finally decided who their candidate for Chancellor will be at the next elections – and already he is getting into problems due to paid speaking engagements during his time as a Member of Parliament.
Peer Steinbrück stands accused of neglecting his job as an MP and of potential bias in favour of banks that paid him for speaking engagements. He has responded by denying the allegations and promising to publish details of how much he received from whom, and what topic he spoke on, and calling for more transparency around German MPs’ earnings gained from second jobs. Having said that, he asserts that “transparency only exists in dictatorships.”
Abgeordnetenwatch, a German website similar to TheyWorkForYou.com operated from Hamburg, has weighed in on the argument. Their founder, Gregor Hackmack, called Steinbrück “a black sheep” amongst MPs: “There is a small number of MPs – Peer Steinbrück, Michael Glos or Heinz Riesenhuber – who have earned a particularly high amount alongside their work as an MP and are neglecting their duties,” presumably calling upon figures gathered through Abgeordnetenwatch. This episode could be a boost for the transparency agenda in a similar way to the MPs expense affair in Britain.
Abgeordnetenwatch was also in the headlines over the weekend because the Hamburg Transparency Law entered into force. Along with other campaigners (Mehr Demokratie e.V., Chaos Computer Club, Transparency International) who successfully forced it through, Abgeordnetenwatch celebrated the entering into force of the Hamburg Transparency Law on Saturday. As I wrote previously, the law was suddenly and surprisingly adopted back in June and requires a greater level of transparency by default, including the creation of an information register.
At the event on Saturday, held at Kultwerk West, the portal “Frag Den Staat” was made available to users in Hamburg to coincide with the transparency law. Similar to the UK’s “what do they know”, the website allows citizens to make freedom of information requests in public and post the responses to the website. Ideas for information requests were collected from the audience and some requests were made in order to demonstrate to the audience how the website works.
In the name of transparency, I suppose I should mention that I’m an unpaid team member at Kultwerk West, where the event was hosted.