Select Committee on European Scrutiny Forty-First Report


15. EUROPEAN GOVERNANCE


(22702)

11574/01

COM(01) 428


Commission White Paper on European Governance.

Legal base:
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
Committee's decision:Cleared



Background

  15.1  The Commission published its White Paper on European Governance[26] 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[27].

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 Paper.

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 of 2002.

Policy 'tool-box'

  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; and

  • 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.

Better consultation

  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 enterprises.

Expert advice

  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 and management;

  • a more professional approach to handling scientific advice in the institutions, to be overseen by the EU Chief Scientist; and

  • initiatives to promote the recruitment of scientifically literate staff - perhaps with a scientific adviser for each Council and Directorate General.

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.

Subsidiarity

  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".

Conclusion

  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.


26  By "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

27  Thirty-third Report, 2001-02, HC 152-xxxiii. Back


 
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