15. EUROPEAN GOVERNANCE
Commission White Paper on European Governance.
|Department:||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration:||Minister's letter of 15 July 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||HC 152-vi (2001-02), paragraph 3 (14 November 2001)
|To be discussed in Council:||No date set
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
15.1 The Commission published its White Paper on European
Governance on 25
July 2001. When we reported on it in November 2001, we welcomed
the White Paper as a contribution to the Future of Europe debate.
We asked the Government whether it intended to respond in writing
and, if so, in what terms. Subsequently we discussed many aspects
of the White Paper in our Report on Democracy and Accountability
in the EU and the Role of National Parliaments.
The Minister's letter
15.2 The Minister for Europe (Mr Peter Hain) replied
in a letter received on 15 July, to which was attached the Government's
written response of March 2002 to the Commission. The Government
regarded the White Paper as 'an important initiative in the effort
to make the EU's institutions more efficient, effective, transparent
and accountable'. The Minister told us he 'was particularly encouraged
by the Commission's proposals on better consultation, smarter
regulation, simplification of existing EU legislation, and proper
application of the principle of subsidiarity'. The response reflects
consultation across Whitehall, as well as with the devolved administrations
and local government.
15.3 The response concentrates on suggested guidelines
for putting into effect some of the 'Action Points' in the White
Better regulation and evaluation of proposals
15.4 The Government supports in particular the Commission's
commitment to improve the quality of its policies by undertaking
proper impact assessments which would include consideration of
different ways of achieving desired outcomes, including alternatives
to legislation. A positive first step was the withdrawal by the
Commission of 108 proposals which were no longer topical. Analyses
of proposals should be founded on a 'robust evidence base' and
should focus on the likely impact of a measure on business, society
and the environment. Evaluation should be carried out at all stages,
to see whether legislation and other policy tools have been based
on the right assumptions and to test the validity of the cost
benefit analysis used. The Government welcomes the Commission's
commitment to produce an impact assessment system before the end
15.5 Recognising the value of the classical "Community
Method", (which it describes as the unique form of EU-level
law-making) as the legislative foundation of the EU, the Government
strongly supports the Commission's intention to make greater use
of non-legislative arrangements. It says that one of the first
considerations should be whether more rigorous enforcement or
better use of existing laws would achieve a desired outcome.
15.6 Appropriate tools for implementing policy could
range from regulations, framework directives, recommendations,
guidelines and self-regulation, to a combination of some of these,
or use of the open method of co-ordination between Member States.
The Government comments that the open method can be regarded as
taking a positive approach to governance, in that it:
- is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity;
- offers flexibility for reacting to changing circumstances
and encourages the spread of best practice and sharing of experience;
- may encourage initiatives which benefit from co-ordination
between Member States but which are seen to be driven by national
governments. This might help in reconnecting citizens with the
work of the Union.
15.7 The Government suggests that this method might be
applied on a case-by-case basis "where there is little scope
for legislative solutions". It does not agree that it should
not be used when legislative action under the Community
method is possible. The Community method should not be seen as
the default option for achieving common objectives.
15.8 The Government says that co-regulation, as in "new
approach directives" which combine policy objectives set
out in legislation with self-regulation, with stakeholders working
out the necessary technical measures to meet the objectives, can
lead to quicker decision-making and more effective implementation,
but the right balance needs to be struck between efficiency and
democratic accountability and scrutiny.
15.9 Welcoming the Commission's proposal to set a common
standard for all EU-level consultations, including a code of conduct
on procedures, the Government says that this should incorporate
an agreed timescale and should take account of expenses, so that
the consultation remains independent and objective, does not leave
those consulted unduly responsible for expenses incurred, or exclude
some organisations altogether because of the costs. A central
register might be drawn up which should be representative, non-discriminatory
and open. The Government has been working to improve the impact
of UK business on EU policy-making through better dialogue and
has set up a liaison office in Brussels for small and medium-sized
15.10 The Government proposes that the guidelines which
the Commission intends to provide on the collection and use of
expert advice should include:
- agreed principles on the handling of scientific advice and
on who is chosen to give it;
- initiatives to promote better understanding of risk assessment
- a more professional approach to handling scientific advice
in the institutions, to be overseen by the EU Chief Scientist;
- initiatives to promote the recruitment of scientifically literate
staff - perhaps with a scientific adviser for each Council and
Regulatory and competition agencies
15.11 Given the significant role which independent regulatory
bodies play, the Government believes it would be helpful for the
EU to establish principles to guide the establishment and functioning
of these bodies, so that their responsibilities and objectives
are clearly demarcated and defined.
15.12 The Government welcomes the greater emphasis placed
recently by the Commission on this principle, but says that it
finds that in practice it is applied with varying degrees of success.
No examples are given.
Regional and local aspects of the White Paper
15.13 The UK's devolved administrations and local government
organisations played an active part in the consultation on the
White Paper and the Government supported this involvement. Some
bodies submitted their own responses direct to the Commission.
The Minister says that the Government is interested in proposals
which help to ensure that policies are better targeted and more
sensitive to local needs and circumstances, whilst respecting
the existing constitutional arrangements between national governments
and their sub-national tiers of government.
The Government's conclusion
15.14 The Minister says that the main goal in reforming
Europe's governance should be to open up policy-making so that
it is "more inclusive, accountable and effective, through
better and more transparent consultation, and more flexible, and
at the appropriate level, through better regulation. A better
use of powers should connect the EU more closely to its citizens
and lead to more effective policies".
15.15 Although the Government was slow to provide
us with this copy of its response, we welcome the opportunity
to see it and endorse the practical suggestions it makes. We hope
that these and the commitments made by the Commission, such as
that of producing impact assessments by the end of the year, will
be put into effect without delay. We have pressed in the past
for more professional cost/benefit analyses than the Commission's
sometimes sketchy and inadequate fiches d'impact and we
particularly welcome the Government's call for evidence-based
analyses to accompany proposals for legislation in future.
15.16 We now clear the document.
"governance", the Commission says that it means 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. Back
Report, 2001-02, HC 152-xxxiii. Back