Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report




COM(01) 428

White Paper on European Governance.
Legal base:
Document originated: 25 July 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 30 July 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 2 October 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 24 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

The White Paper

  3.1  Improving European governance is one of Commission President Prodi's strategic aims, according to the White Paper. It defines governance as "rules, processes and behaviour that affect the way in which powers are exercised at European level, particularly as regards openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness, and coherence".

  3.2  The White Paper analyses the problems the EU faces in connecting with its citizens and organisations and suggests that reform of European governance is a requisite part of the broader debate on the Future of Europe. It discusses the principles of good governance and then makes clear and precise recommendations for practical action. At this stage, the Commission does not make any proposals that require treaty change. The public consultation on the paper will run until 31 March 2002.

  3.3  The White Paper begins with the words:

"Today, political leaders throughout Europe are facing a real paradox. On the one hand, Europeans want them to find solutions to the major problems confronting our societies. On the other hand, people increasingly distrust institutions and politics, or are simply not interested in them.

"The problem is acknowledged by national parliaments and governments alike. It is particularly acute at the level of the European Union. Many people are losing confidence in a poorly understood and complex system to deliver the policies that they want. The Union is often seen as remote and at the same time too intrusive."

Section I: Why reform European governance?

  3.4  Expanding on its thesis that many Europeans feel alienated from the Union's work, the paper comments:

"European integration has delivered fifty years of stability, peace and economic prosperity. It has helped to raise standards of living, built an internal market and strengthened the Union's voice in the world. It has achieved results which [it] would not have been possible [for Member States to have achieved acting individually]. It has attracted a succession of applications for membership and in a few years time it will expand on a continental scale. It has also served as a model for regional integration across the world.

"These results have been achieved by democratic means. The Union is built on the rule of law; it can draw on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and it has a double democratic mandate through a Parliament representing EU citizens and a Council representing the elected governments of the Member States".

  3.5  Elaborating on this theme, the paper refers to:

  • the decreasing turnout in the European Parliament elections and the Irish referendum "no" vote as demonstrations of the widening gulf between the EU and the people it serves;

  • the popular perception that the EU is unable to act effectively "where a clear case exists", for instance on unemployment, food safety scares and crime;

  • the lack of proper credit being given where the EU does act effectively. People do not see that the improvements in their rights and quality of life actually come in some cases from European rather than national decisions;

  • the failure of Member States to communicate well and their readiness to blame "Brussels" for difficult decisions that they themselves have agreed to, or even requested; and

  • the fact that many people do not know the difference between the institutions. They do not understand who takes the decisions that affect them and do not feel that the institutions act as an effective channel for their views and concerns.

  3.6  The paper goes on to argue that the Union must start the process of reform now:

"A better use of powers should connect the EU more closely to its citizens and lead to more effective policies ... the Union must better combine different policy tools such as legislation, social dialogue, structural funding and action programmes. This would contribute to strengthening the Community method."

  3.7  The Commission suggests that it:

"must refocus on its core mission. The proposals in this paper will improve the quality of the way it initiates policy. They will ensure more clarity and effectiveness in policy execution, and maximise the impact of the Commission's actions as guardian of the Treaty."

  3.8  But, it adds:

"the Commission alone cannot improve European governance, nor can this Paper provide a magic cure for everything. Change requires concerted action by all the European institutions, present and future Member States, regional and local authorities, and civil society. ... Their commitment to reforming European governance will be essential in order to regain confidence before the next round of institutional reform. Elected officeholders at various levels, in particular at national level, have a crucial role in this context."

Section II: The principles of good governance

  3.9  The paper identifies these as:

  • openness: the institutions should work in a more open manner and use more accessible language;

  • participation: improved participation is likely to create more confidence in the end result and in the institutions which deliver policies. It crucially depends on central governments following an inclusive approach when developing and implementing EU policies;

  • accountability: the legislative and executive roles need to be clearer but there is also a need for greater clarity and responsibility from Member States;

  • effectiveness: policies must deliver what is needed on the basis of clear objectives, evaluations of future impact and, where available, of past experience; and

  • coherence: the need within the Union is increasing with the growth in the range of tasks undertaken, the diversity of enlargement and the increasing involvement in EU policies of regional and local authorities.

  3.10  Proportionality and subsidiarity must be applied. The Union is changing:

"It will no longer be judged solely by its ability to remove barriers to trade or to complete an internal market; its legitimacy today depends on involvement and participation. This means that the linear model of dispensing policies from above must be replaced by a virtuous circle, based on feedback, networks and involvement from policy creation to implementation at all levels."

Section III: Proposals for change

  3.11  The Commission makes clear and specific recommendations for practical action. These fall into four categories.

— Better involvement

  3.12  This section focuses on improving stakeholders' involvement in shaping and implementing EU policy. It also discusses how the EU's institutions can communicate more actively with the general public on European issues. The Commission proposes:

  • continuing to provide up-to-date on-line information on preparation of policy through all stages of decision-making and in all relevant languages;

  • establishing a more systematic dialogue with representatives of regional and local governments through national and European associations at an early stage in shaping policy;

  • bringing a greater flexibility into how Community legislation can be implemented in a way which takes account of regional and local conditions, and allows for greater overall policy coherence;

  • publishing a code of conduct that sets minimum standards for consultation, and adopting these before the end of 2001; and

  • establishing partnership arrangements going beyond the minimum standards in selected areas committing the Commission to additional consultation in return for further guarantees of the openness and representativity of those organisations consulted.

— Better policies, regulation and delivery

  3.13  The second section discusses improving the quality and enforcement of EU policies. The White Paper recognises the need to find ways of speeding up the legislative process, finding the right mix between imposing a uniform approach when required and allowing greater flexibility for the implementation of rules where practical. The Commission proposes:

  • promoting more targeted use of policy tools (regulations, "framework directives", co-regulatory mechanisms);

  • simplifying further existing EU law and encourage Member States to simplify the national rules which give effect to EU provisions;

  • publishing guidelines on collection and use of expert advice, so that it is clear what advice is given, where it is coming from, how it is used and what alternative views are available;

  • establishing criteria to focus the Commission's work in investigating possible breaches of Community law; and

  • defining the criteria for the creation of new regulatory agencies and the framework within which they should operate.

— The EU's contribution to global governance

  3.14  The third section calls for a stronger link between European governance and the role of the Union in the world. It recognises the opportunity to make a useful contribution to global governance, but stresses the need to reform governance successfully at home in order to enhance the case for change at an international level. The Commission proposes:

  • to improve the dialogue with the governmental and non-governmental actors of third countries when developing policy proposals with an international dimension;

  • to promote a discussion in 2002 on how the Union can contribute to a comprehensive reform of multilateral institutions and improve co-operation and openness of international organisations; and

  • to review the Union's international representation in order to speak more often with a single voice.

— Refocused policies and institutions

  3.15  The final section stresses the need to refocus the Union's policies and adapt the way the institutions work under the existing treaties. The Commission proposes:

  • reinforcing attempts to ensure policy coherence, identifying long-term objectives and building upon efforts aimed at improving strategic planning and reporting; and

  • bringing forward to the next Inter-Governmental Conference proposals to refocus executive responsibility on the Commission, while streamlining the control by Council and European Parliament over how the Commission uses its executive powers.

  3.16  It says that the Commission:

"must focus on its Treaty tasks of policy initiation; execution; guardian of the Treaty; and international representation of the Community. The measures proposed in this White Paper, including an enhanced dialogue with European and national associations of regional and local government, better and more open consultation of civil society, better use of expert advice, and better impact assessment will help to improve the quality of policy proposals".

  3.17  It suggests that the link between European and global governance should lead to the Union speaking more often with a single voice. To simplify legislation further, and to avoid the Commission having to assign resources to tasks which are too technical, it proposes increased use of regulatory agencies. It has already proposed using external executive agencies, under Commission control, rather than Commission resources for some spending programmes.

  3.18  The European Parliament, the Commission suggests, should "enhance its control on the execution of EU policies and the implementation of the budget".

The Government's view

  3.19  In an Explanatory Memorandum of 24 October, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Peter Hain) comments:

"HMG welcomes the White Paper. It is an important initiative in the effort to make the EU's institutions more efficient, effective, transparent and accountable. The Government particularly welcomes the emphasis on practical ideas which can be implemented now, without the need for Treaty change. It is in the UK's interests that all EU institutions improve the quality of service they provide, and are more open in the way they shape and deliver EU policy. This White Paper is an important contribution to the overall work of reforming the institutions.

"The Government particularly welcomes the proposals on better consultation, smarter regulation, greater (but properly regulated) use of external agencies, guidelines on the use of expert advice, simplification of existing EU legislation, and proper application of the principle of subsidiarity.

"Certain other proposals will require further thought and discussion. HMG does not, for example, support all the elements in the global governance chapter.

"It is important now that momentum for reform established by the White Paper is sustained and that the process delivers. HMG looks forward to the Commission's progress report to the Laeken European Council in December."

Commission President's presentation of the White Paper to the European Parliament

  3.20  The Commission President, Romano Prodi, made an official presentation of the White Paper to the Plenary Session of the European Parliament (EP) on 4 September. He said that it was the first of three stages in which the Commission would rewrite in public its rules of governance. In the second stage, it would state its position on the Laeken process and in the third it would set out any substantive amendments it believed should be made to the founding treaties.

  3.21  Mr Prodi told the EP that it needed to focus on its key tasks of decision-making, monitoring policy implementation and budgetary responsibilities. Referring to the suggestion in the White Paper that the EP should "depart from the present emphasis on detailed accounting" and move towards "more detailed policy-oriented control-based political objectives", he said that the EP would have to decide for themselves how to bring this about.

  3.22  Responses to the White Paper were reported to have been mixed. The EPP-ED spokesman described it as "dense, full of ideas and proposals but still concise", while the Socialist group spokesman accused the Commission of having marginalised the EP, both by failing to put the White Paper to it before sending it to the Member State governments, and by hinting in the text that the EP could be replaced by other groups. He called for the Commission to define what it saw as its core tasks over the next ten years. Mr Prodi said that he would take the criticisms into account. The White Paper, he said, was by no means a final document.

  3.23  On 2 October, Mr Prodi appeared at the EP Plenary Session to discuss the White Paper again. He attempted to rebut criticisms that were circulating amongst MEPs of aspects of the White Paper. These were based on "a deplorable misunderstanding". The Commission was not seeking to evade parliamentary scrutiny of its executive role, nor was it seeking to sideline Parliament by such methods as promoting "framework legislation", proposing the establishment of regulatory agencies to fulfil technical executive functions, or seeking to improve dialogue and consultation between the Commission and civil society. Mr Prodi insisted that the thrust of the White Paper was that each of the EU's three main institutions should:

"take a step backwards and start concentrating again on their institutional tasks.

"The Commission, for its part, should table fewer proposals and target them better, concentrating on its executive function. The Council should play its legislative role and not turn itself into an executive. The Parliament has major political responsibilities for monitoring the way policies are implemented, and for the Community budget. It is thus much more than simply the co-legislator".

  3.24  In the debate that followed, it became clear that the majority of MEPs thought that, despite Mr Prodi's denials, the Commission was attempting to encroach on, or diminish, the Parliament's legislative role. There was suspicion that the use of framework legislation, buttressed by regulations, would be used to evade parliamentary scrutiny. Some sharply criticised the Commission's proposals to establish "partnership arrangements" with NGOs and civil society. The President did, however, receive support for his proposals to make 'comitology' more transparent, to consult more closely with regional and local authorities, and to improve the Commission's public explanation of its policies and activities. In his concluding remarks, he stressed that the Commission was not attempting to build links with civil society as a means of circumventing parliamentary scrutiny; it was simply attempting to bring into the open the mechanisms for consultation with non-governmental organisations which already existed.


  3.25  The Commission spells out with refreshing frankness in this White Paper a number of the problems that detract from good governance of the EU. Amongst the many pious aspirations it expresses, it stresses that there is a limit to what it alone can do. As it said in its preview of the White Paper in July,[11] it is only one part of "a comprehensive mechanism of institutions and national political systems, with their regional and local components." It emphasises that the success of its proposals will depend not just on this White Paper, but equally on other people and institutions mobilising and becoming engaged in a broad debate, and on the interaction this will stimulate. It calls for parliamentarians to provide leadership in the debate and we agree that this will be key to a successful outcome.

  3.26  We welcome the Commission's recognition of the need to find ways to speed up the legislative process. At the same time, we particularly wish to stress the need to ensure that adequate time is allocated in the process, as a matter of course and of principle, to accommodate the requirements of parliamentary scrutiny.

  3.27  We note the assurances which the Commission President gave to the European Parliament that, in attempting to build stronger links to civil society, the Commission would not seek in any way to circumvent scrutiny. Like the Government, we take a positive view of the undertaking by the Commission to improve consultation. We also take the view that further thought and discussion needs to be given to some of the other proposals, including some of the comments by the Commission on the respective roles of the institutions.

  3.28  We welcome the White Paper as a contribution from the Commission to the Future of Europe debate and will take it into account in the inquiry which we are conducting into Democracy and Accountability in the EU and the Role of National Parliaments.[12]

  3.29  We ask the Minister whether the Government intends to respond in writing to this White Paper and, if so, in what terms. Meanwhile, we shall not clear the document.

11  Newsletter European Governance number 6. Back

12  See the European Scrutiny Committee website for Press Notices on the inquiry: Back

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Prepared 27 November 2001