Select Committee on European Union Sixteenth Report


CHAPTER 5: PUBLICITY

117.  The final section of the Communication deals with publicising the Commission's internal monitoring of fundamental rights. Although the Communication speaks of internal monitoring forming the "subject of an appropriate communication targeted at European citizens"[55] it seems that no further Communication from the Commission is anticipated.

Aim and purpose

118.  As already mentioned, the Communication replaces a 2001 Decision which was very little known, even within the Commission. A key objective of the new Communication is to raise awareness of the fundamental rights implications of EU legislation and of what the Commission is doing to seek to ensure compliance.

119.  The purpose of increasing publicity is threefold:

Increasing publicity at three levels

120.  The Communication contemplates the public being informed at three levels. First, the Communication itself is a published document. Second, impact assessments and explanatory memoranda will be publicly available. They should alert the public as to how specific proposals address human rights concerns. Finally, at the pre-legislative consultation stage, the Commission will draw attention to the rights set out in the Charter and invite interested parties to say what concerns about human rights they have. [57]

121.  Accordingly, at several stages in the development of any particular policy or proposal which might have an impact on fundamental human rights, publicity will be given to what is happening and interested members of the public, including individuals and NGOs, should have the opportunity to make their comments and seek to influence the Commission. Dr Ladenburger said: "Certainly one hope connected to this Communication is that any such contributions will be encouraged and intensified, and also that as public knowledge about this internal mechanism will spread out beyond those NGOs that are specialising in human rights concerns, this will encourage more widely members of civil society to rely on the Charter and on this mechanism" (Q 52).

122.  The Commission's proposal to give extra publicity to its actions was generally welcomed. However, some witnesses thought the Commission could go further. ILPA expressed disappointment with some aspects of Commission consultation exercises. Professor Guild: "I think that leaves us with constantly having to reassess the mechanisms by which consultation with civil society takes place in the drafting of legislation" (Q 102). There was even less room to influence the Commission at the later stages: "the Commission officials responsible for shepherding it through its legislative process are already deep in the negotiations with the Parliament and with the Council" (Q 103).

123.  Dr Metcalfe, for JUSTICE, contrasted the domestic position: "in the United Kingdom, the human rights organisations have a standing four-monthly meeting with the Minister for Human Rights in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. It is not necessarily an ideal arrangement, but it is nonetheless a useful step in having regular contact between human rights groups and the Executive. It is possible that something similar could be arranged in relation to the European Union having regular meetings with the Commissioners possibly" (Q 104).

124.  There is no doubt that the Communication is an improvement on the 2001 Decision, but it would have been even better had it provided practical ideas and means for improving communication with outsiders and enabling them to have an input. To encourage assertion of rights is the aim, but it is not best achieved by anything in the Communication. There need to be clearer mechanisms for NGOs and others to be able to identify problems and, in the language of the Communication, "assert their fundamental rights" in the preparation and passage of EU legislation. This is something to which we would urge the Commission to give further consideration.

Reviewing the Communication

125.  The Communication is silent on how the Commission might monitor the effects of the new Communication within the Commission itself. Might some independent group of experts provide an annual report to the President? Or might this be another possible job for the Fundamental Rights Agency?

126.  Baroness Ashton of Upholland agreed that this was an issue which should be taken up with the Commission. But the Government would want to establish what the Commission was intending to do and also whether the Council would be looking at the matter, perhaps on the basis of a report from the Commission or in discussion with the Parliament or the LIBE Committee (Q 123).

127.  We welcome the Government's positive approach to the need to monitor application of the Communication by the Commission. Should the opportunity arise, particularly during the United Kingdom Presidency, we urge the Government to initiate a discussion in the Council, drawing attention to the importance of the Communication for the standing of EU legislation and inviting the Commission to produce an annual report on the working of the Communication.


55   Communication, at para 30.  Back

56   Communication, at para 31. Back

57   Communication, at para 32. Back


 
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