Opening up Parliament: The Tensions between Proximity to the Citizens and Security

Austrian Parliament, 28 January 2019

Secretaries General of the European Union Parliaments discuss the possibilities and limits of opening up the parliament to citizens

Vienna (PK) - Opening parliaments to citizens offers numerous new opportunities for citizens and representatives, but also raises security issues in light of the growing number of visitors. These tensions were the subject of the second part of the meeting of the Secretaries General of the European Union Parliaments, which took place today in Vienna as part of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austrian EU Presidency.

Harald Dossi reports on crowd sourcing in the project for the design of the new Visitor Centre

Parliament should be open to citizens, but at the same time it should also offer parliamentarians and staff the opportunity to work safely and as needed, said Harald Dossi, Secretary General of the Austrian Parliament, outlining what he views as the necessary framework. He pointed to the renovation of the Austrian Parliament building in Vienna, where citizens participated in a crowd sourced project for the design of the new Visitor Centre. He reported that the 800 suggestions received highlighted the broad-based desire for modern technologies and interactive methods. The Visitor Centre must also serve as a general information point for democracy in Austria and be part of the public space. The citizens also see the planned facility as a place for politicians and the public to meet and have also urged the Parliament to draw on international experience when designing the structure, he said.

Simone Roos: Parliament in The Hague adopts proactive approach to security

Opening up the parliament also entails risks relating to physical security, said Simone Roos, Secretary General of the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament. In this context she referred to an incident last year in which a visitor threatened to hang himself with a rope while parliament was in session. Consequently, it is necessary to guarantee security without limiting citizens’ access to the parliament, she stressed. The Dutch parliament pursues a proactive approach to security by cooperating with partner organisations such as the police or health authorities. At the same time, information from social media, for example, is used to anticipate possible threats.

David Natzler: British Parliament seeks balance between openness and security

The need to strike a balance between openness and security was also underlined by Secretary General of the House of Commons David Natzler who said that the location itself of Parliament in Westminster poses a number of security challenges. In any case, visitors pose a security risk and have to undergo checks similar to those at airports. Ensuring the openness of Parliament has a long tradition in Great Britain, just as a sign of transparency. In addition to the ability to attend meetings, visitors also have the opportunity to take guided tours, and on weekends even weddings and baptisms take place in the House. Mr. Natzler said that while Parliament had no visitor centre of its own, there were plans to adapt the government's conference centre accordingly.

In the subsequent discussion, the Secretaries General had the opportunity to exchange their experiences. The preeminent importance of striking a balance between openness and security was a recurrent theme throughout all the contributions to the debate.

PLEASE NOTE: Photos of the conference can be found at the website of the Austrian Parliament at

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