Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


Commission of the European Communities
General Guidelines for Legislative Policy, January 1996


  The Commission endeavours to be the melting pot for European interests and to be at the service of the people at large. Since the outset it has been open to outside influences, anxious to ensure consistency between Community policies and mindful of the consequences of the measures which it proposes.

  The completion of the single market prompted an unprecedented legislative simplification effort. The Commission is now directing its legislative policy in that field towards the management and adjustment of the common rules. At the same time this change of direction should provide an incentive towards competitiveness, the constant concern of business, whose contribution to employment is all important.

  Better law-making. That is the key slogan of this policy. The task is to lay down guidelines on the basis of a few solid principles, to reaffirm those existing rules which point in the right direction, and to review the guidelines whenever this proves necessary.

  The aim is to ensure that legislative texts are of the proper quality and consistency, that the drafting process is open, planned and co-ordinated and that monitoring and evaluation are more thorough.

  These guidelines reflect the Commission's response to the challenges now facing the Community's decision-making mechanisms. They will not be fully effective unless the other institutions and the Member States give their unreserved support to the campaign for quality, consistency and transparency.


  Various instruments on legislative procedures are available to Commission staff:

    -    the Commission's Rules of Procedure and the provisions for implementing these Rules;

    -    the Secretariat-General's Institutional Vademecum, Part III of which lays down various guidelines on legislative policy;

    -    "Legislative Drafting", a manual for Commission departments, issued at regular intervals by the Legal Service;

    -    "The principle of subsidiarity", the Commission's communication to the Council of 27 October 1992 (SEC(92) 1990 final), together with subsequent instructions;

    -    "Better law-making", Commission report to the Madrid European Council (CSE(95) 580);

    -    "Information, communication, openness", a compendium of documents approved by the Commission in 1993 and 1994 (Publications Office, 1994).

  In addition the Commission has adopted various operational decisions, particularly as regards environmental and small business impact assessments. These decisions have been followed by the issue of instructions to staff.

  The Manual of Operational Procedures, which is regularly updated by the Secretariat-General, sets out the rules to be observed and the guidelines to be followed. It is, therefore, the reference work for staff use.


  Clear guidelines have been laid down, but steps must be taken to ensure that they are properly applied.


  Consistency between the Commission's various policies and commitments requires that the institutions' activities be concentrated on the priorities fixed at political level and that there be synergy between the measures taken. The priorities are listed in the annual work programme. There can be no synergy unless the various departments concerned, acting on the authority of the responsible Member of the Commission and in conjunction with the Secretariat-General, co-ordinate their activities from the earliest stage in the preparation of initiatives. The rules on inter-service co-ordination are quite clear on the subject. Special attention is paid to these principles in the annual work programme.

Action 1

The Commission reminds staff of the importance and desirability of strict observance of the existing rules on the co-ordination and planning of its work so that legislative activities can be efficiently managed and appropriate information strategies drawn up. Inter-service co-ordination must take place at the earliest possible stage in the drafting process.

Rationalisation and modernisation of assessments

  The Commission has gradually come to attach a variety of assessments to its legislative initiatives, notably by means of the small-business impact form and of the environmental impact study. The assessment of the impact of any proposal must be made with particular care. In the future, action is needed on two fronts:

    -    rationalisation: an overall approach must be taken. The duplication of work must be avoided. Analyses should make for consistency rather than diversity. Assessments must be proportionate ie suited to their purpose. The information provided by assessments must be specific and accompanied by figures, where possible;

    -    modernisation: new methods of assessment may be necessary in various areas.

  To put it simply, the approach must be one of the spirit-to assess the common interest. The Explanatory Memorandum is therefore the best place for setting out the results of such assessment.

Action 2

(a)  The assessment of the impact of a proposal is important and must be made with particular care;

(b)  By the end of 1996, departments are asked to examine, together with the Secretariat-General, the need for the rationalisation and modernisation of assessments and the ways in which they can be made.

Systematic monitoring of legislation

  Assessment should not come to an end with the adoption of a proposal. It should continue throughout the external consultations, the legislative process and thereafter. The effectiveness of current legislation and its possible secondary effects must be verified and brought under control. Appropriate corrective measures must be taken. The guidelines laid down by the Commission for the improvement of financial management must be reflected in the legislative field.

  The Commission prepares a wide range of assessment reports, either of its own motion or by virtue of duties imposed by the legislation. To maximise the benefits of assessment, the administrative and financial resources allocated for this purpose should not be dissipated on the preparation of unnecessary reports.

Action 3

On the basis of regular assessments by departments, the proper initiatives must be taken regarding legislation which would be reviewed or repealed.

At the same time efforts devoted to such assessments must be concentrated to maximise their impact and usefulness.


  There are various instruments and arrangements to allow the views of outsiders to be taken into account:

    -    the Commission's annual work programme is published in the Official Journal and as a supplement to the Bulletin, and it is debated in the European Parliament. This programme lists the Commission's political priorities and specifies the ares in which the Commission plans to hold wider consultations;

    -    the Commission organises hearings or information seminars;

    -    advice is received from the advisory committees or groups of independent or national experts set up by the Commission;

    -    the social partners are consulted;

    -    notice of initiatives is given in the Official Journal, summarising the planned measure and providing practical information on how to obtain the relevant documents, together with details of the department responsible and the time limits applicable;

    -    communications, white papers and multi-annual action plans are published on the initiatives or guidelines which the Commission is planning to adopt in this or that area;

    -    green papers are published in order to sound out the views of the public and interest groups on the various options;

    -    documents of public interest are published whenever possible and made available in as many different forms as possible.

  This diversity of instruments reflects the flexibility of the approach adopted by the Commission. The methods used to obtain outside opinions must meet the requirements of each sector, depending on the nature of the instrument. Openness must not, however, create such an administrative burden that it is doomed to end in failure. Lastly, the Commission's powers of initiative must be safeguarded.

Action 4

The policy adopted in 1992, whereby the widest possible external consultation should be held on all new Commission initiatives, is re-affirmed.


  Legislative texts must:

    -    specify the objective pursued;

    -    have a clearly-identified legal basis, of which there must be only one wherever possible and which must be consistent with the recitals and the actual articles;

    -    comply with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;

    -    aim at legislative and administrative simplification, both at Community and at national level;

    -    be simple, concise and clearly worded;

    -    be consistent with the Commission's priorities and actions;

    -    be based on rationalised and modernised assessments which provide a genuine evaluation of the common interest;

    -    be subject to assessment throughout the decision-making process and the period of implementation;

    -    be the result of broader external consultations.
Action 5

Departments are asked to refer to the legislative checklist annexed hereto. The Secretariat-General will periodically update this checklist, particularly following any review of assessments.


  It is recommended that the Commission:

    -    approve the guidelines set forth in this memorandum, and in particular the five actions specified;

    -    instruct the Secretariat-General to monitor the implementation and development of these guidelines.


Legislative Checklist

  The Explanatory Memorandum must satisfy the following requirements:

1.  JUSTIFICATION AND OBJECTIVE: reference to the Commission's work programme.


3.  THE TEXT MUST BE READER-FRIENDLY AND USER-FRIENDLY: It must be clearly worded, simple in presentation and content, and concise. It should not stretch to more than twenty pages.


    -    What are the objectives of the planned measure in relation to the Community's obligations?

    -    Does the measure fall within the Community's exclusive competence or is competence shared with the Member States?

    -    Where competence is shared, apply the subsidiarity test:

    -    What is the Community dimension of the problem?

    -    Necessity test: can the objectives not be adequately achieved by the Member States?

    -    Effectiveness test: what is the most effective solution, that achieved by the Community means or that achieved by national means? What specific added value is contributed by the planned Community measure and what would be the cost of taking no action?

    -    Proportionality test: are the means of Community action proportionate to the objectives?

    -    What is the most suitable instrument for achieving the objectives? (Recommendation, financial support, mutual recognition, legislation etc)

    -    In the case of legislation, is the scope, duration or intensity greater than necessary?

5.  SIMPLIFICATION: (legislative and administrative) any advantages or constraints resulting from the proposed measure, both for the Community and for the Member States, should be explained in detail.


7.  EXTERNAL CONSULTATIONS: an account must be given of the procedures and outcome of such consultations.

8.  ASSESSMENT: every instrument must be subject to assessment, procedures and techniques should be specified.


10.  FINANCIAL STATEMENT: (a separate document showing the budgetary implications and the human and administrative resources required).

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