Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
1. The Local Government International Bureau,
which acts as the European and international arm of the Local
Government Association of England and Wales, welcomes the opportunity
to express our views on a number of the issues and questions raised
by your Committee's Inquiry. The LGIB and LGA are multi-party
organisations, which seek to work by consensus.
2. Many of these issues and questions are
ones that we are already considering, in the context of the recent
European Commission's White Paper on European Governance, and
the debate on the future development of the EU. We attach a copy
of our submission of July 2000 which set our main ideas on the
European governance theme.
3. Our overarching approach is that good
governance requires an equal partnership and co-operation between
all of the spheres of government, to tackle the big issues facing
our citizens. We say "spheres" rather than "levels"
of government, because we do not believe that the top-down, linear
model of decision-making is appropriate or relevant to the modern
world. To take a highly current example, the recent attacks on
New York and Washington have required, and will require, strong
co-operation between the Federal, State and city governments.
None can successfully act by itself to resolve the huge issues
and problems facing those cities. More widely, the issues of the
environment, urban regeneration, employment creation etc. cannot
be addressed by one "level" alone.
4. We also believe that this European debate
on governance, democracy and accountability has importance for
our domestic UK consideration of the relationship between the
spheres of government. In the near future, the government will
publish a White Paper on local government. We believe it essential
that this White Paper includes a clear vision and conceptual model
for the contemporary central-local relationshipand the
discussions across Europe on governance, partnership, proximity
and subsidiarity provide important principles to underpin our
own system of governance.
5. The recent White Paper on European Governance
breaks new ground in some of its key recommendations. Its overall
approach is set out in Part II which sets out some key principles,
and reflects that the EU's legitimacy "today depends on involvement
and participation". 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."
6. It recommends that the Commission should
organise "a systematic dialogue with European and national
associations of regional and local government", while respecting
national constitutional and administrative arrangements. The purpose
of the dialogue is to ensure that local and regional knowledge
and conditions are properly taken into account in policy shaping.
It also recommends that Member States should have adequate mechanisms
for wide consultation when discussing EU decisions and implementing
EU policies with a territorial dimension.
7. We believe that these recommendations,
together with those in relation to civil society, go some considerable
way to engage a wider range of actors in European policy-making,
without affecting the formal decision-making process and accountabilities.
At present, the system is procedurally complex, even arcane, and
seen as mainly the preserve of the EU's institutions and central
governments within the Member States. This affects, negatively,
the sense of "ownership" of European legislation and
policy-making. We say this while recognising the important democratic
role of the European Parliament, and likewise the consultative
role of the Committee of the Regions and of the Economic and Social
8. If local government in the UK is to play,
with our European counterparts, a more organised and active role
in European policy-shaping, it follows that we will need to ensure
that we are connected to our citizens. Central and local government
have, in recent years, taken significant steps to improve consultation
and participation, and this will need to include more specific
European agendas, where relevant. The Commission foresees a link
between a closer dialogue with local and regional government,
and a commitment on our part to keep citizens informed on European
issues and developments.
9. The Commission also recommends that local
and (where it exists) regional government are more fully consulted
by national governmentsthe latter should "examine
how to improve the involvement of local and regional actors in
EU policy-making." We hope that the UK government will explore,
with LGA and LGIB, how to achieve this within our context. This
is another aspect to improving "joined-up government",
across government departments, and between the spheres of government.
10. The following paragraphs give our ideas
on some of the questions posed by the Inquiry. Others (not listed
below) are beyond our remit.
What are the underlying reasons for the apparent
"disconnection" between national electorates and the
11. This question raises fundamental issues
that go beyond our specific brief. Those issues include the wider
"disconnection" of many citizens, even within national
states, exemplified in lower turn-outs for most kinds of election.
It covers too the problem of how (whether) individuals feel able
to influence decisions and events that are taken either in global
bodies, or by world regional organisations, of which the EU is
the most developed. It also, however, raises the "problem"
that, in the UK in particular, there is little sense of self-identification
by citizens as being "European" in addition to other
12. We believe that there are issues related
to the way the EU presents itself and acts, and the current poor
quality of much information and communication on EU issues within
the UK, where public understanding is generally also of a poor
quality. The EU is seen as distant and either irrelevant, or as
intervening at an excessively detailed level. We believe that
the EU and all of us involved in government within Member States
need to improve the presentation of European affairs, and explain
more clearly the reasons for EU action. A co-ordinated approach
between us is required.
13. We also believe that the principle of
subsidiarity is usually misunderstood, even by the EU institutions
and national governments. In the Treaties, the principle is only
seen to apply between the EU and the Member States, but its true
meaning requires also that local and regional government are included
in its ambit. In essence, subsidiarity means that decisions and
action should be taken by the sphere of government closest to
the citizen that is effective for the purpose in question. This
approach is valid for decision-making within the UK, as well as
in relation to European affairs. We believe that most people will
understand that in today's world, many decisions need to be taken
from a pan-European perspective. But they feel alienated when
decisions that are local or regional in essence are determined
by the EU or indeed by national governments. In recent times,
reference is also increasingly made to the related principle of
"proximity". Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union
"This Treaty marks a new stage in the process
of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,
in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and closely
as possible to the citizen."
There are however no current means specified
for making this commitment to proximity a reality.
14. We believe that a small but important
means of bridging the "disconnection" is via mutual
exchange of experience. Partnerships between cities, regions and
local authorities have played a useful role in improving co-operation
and understanding. Twinning has, despite some criticisms, been
a means of bringing thousands of people together across Europe's
old frontiers. Such transnational links should be of even greater
importance in relation to the EU candidate countries, but at present
there are no funding programmesoutside the modest European
Commission twinning grantthat are easily accessible to
local and regional authorities. This is despite the fact that
local and regional government play a key role in implementing
the laws and policies of the EU, including the acquis communautaire.
What changes are needed to the EU's legislative
process to facilitate democratic scrutiny before decisions are
made? Is there adequate consultation at early enough stages?
15. It follows from our support for the
White Paper proposals that we strongly believe in a wider, better
organised dialogue and consultation, by the Commission and national
governments, at a formative stage in EU policy and law making.
There is consultation on many issues, and there are many effective
European lobbies, but no overall means of ensuring that relevant
interests and expertise are taken into account at the critical
time. Once a formal proposal is drafted and on the table, it is
far more difficult to achieve any necessary changes. At the outset,
it needs to be determined whether European action is necessary,
and if so whether a new legal instrument is required, or whether
alternative means can deliver the desired result.
16. We do not propose any change to the
essence of the formal decision-making process, ie to the fundamental
roles of Commission, Council and Parliament, but believe that
the current legislative processes, with their alternatives, are
too complex. We believe that the consultative role of the Committee
of the Regions needs to be strengthened, including improvements
in CoR's communication with the institutions, and a commitment
by those institutions to take more fully into account the views
17. A fuller, better organised role for
local government and for civil society in European policy-making
is not only required for technical reasons. It can also demonstrate
a wider shift in the EU's identity from one effectively for European
and national elites, to one that welcomes the positive involvement
of all sections of society.
Could national Parliaments play a greater role
in informing the public about the EU and its activities, and in
channelling the public's views to EU institutions?
18. We believe the answer to this is "yes",
but that the role is far from limited to Parliaments. As indicated
above, we see local government as also playing an important "channelling"
role. We recommend that a UK workshop be held, involving central
government, MPs, and local and regional government representatives,
to discuss how to enhance European information and consultation
processes within the UK in a co-ordinated way.
What is the potential contribution of delimitation
of competences, subsidiarity and variable-speed Europe to reducing
any "disconnection" between electorates and political
institutions? Would a clear statement of the EU's purpose help?
What impact will enlargement have?
19. The current EU has grown up in a fairly
organic way, and the way the Treaties re drafted reflects the
different historic "layers" of inter-governmental decision-making.
The Treaty of Nice was important in preparing the ground for enlargement,
but it is exceedingly complex. We believe that in the coming years,
there needs to be a rethink about how the Treaties are drafted,
without necessarily changing the EU's basic roles in a fundamental
way. If the people of Europe are to understand the need for European
action, and give greater legitimacy to the EU, we need to achieve
more simplicity and transparency in the working of the EU, as
well as wider practical involvement.
20. First, we believe that there needs to
be a clearer statement of the EU's overall objectives, including
if appropriate a "mission statement". The current Treaties
set out similar but different objectives for the EU and for the
EC, for example. The EU has the objectives set out in Article
2, whilst the EC has (in its Article 2) what are called tasks,
but are really objectives. There are various other objectives
scattered across the Treaty. We do not expect millions of citizens
to study Treaties, but a clear set of objectives would, we believe,
help in getting a clearer public understanding and acceptance
of the EU's role.
21. Second, we query whether the distinction
between a European Union and a European Community is any longer
meaningful. It is another source of confusion, even for those
with some general interest in European affairs.
22. Third, we believe that it is important
to clarify the competences of the EU/EC, but do not accept the
need for competences to be "delimited" if, by the word
"delimit" is meant a rigid separation. We believe (in
line with the Commission's view expressed in the White Paper)
that the EU's competences will for the most part be shared competences.
This does not mean that all spheres of government can act in the
same way on any questionthis would be a recipe for confusion.
But it does mean that competences such as "the environment"
cannot sensibly be allocated exclusively either to the EU, or
to Member States.
23. Moreover, we need to be clear what we
mean by "competences". It is often assumed that a competence
means a power to legislate; but the dictionary definition is that
of a legal power to act. Legislation is one way of acting, but
powers to spend public money, to regulate, to take quasi-judicial
decisions etc, are all "competences". Within the EC,
one of the current key competences is indeed a non-legislative
onethat of co-ordination of employment policies.
24. It follows that it is not only the EU,
national governments/Parliaments and regions with legislative
powers that have competences. All spheres of government, including
local and regional governments, have competences. To take the
environment again as an example, there is a role for the EU, for
national governments, and for regional and local governments.
To deliver a better environment requires partnership between all,
respecting our different roles, powers and perspectives. The concept
of sharing competences, not separating competences, is of vital
importance for good governance.
25. The way competences are expressed in
the current Treaties needs to be made more clear and more uniform,
in language and level of detail. Some key competences (currently
called "activities" in Article 3) are expressed in general
terms with little detail, eg those on state aids and competition.
Other competences, of relatively lesser importance, are set out
in great detail. But there is also no clarity on how far a competence
or activity currently permits law-making, as against other forms
of EC action (eg funding programmes).
26. In sum, we believe that there is a need
for a simplification and clarification of the EU/EC's competences,
and that each competence should set out clearly whether it carries
a power to legislate, or to take some other form of action. We
commend the idea of there being a clear statement of the overall
aim, and major objectives, of the EU.
27. We have already set out our main view
on subsidiarity. We strongly believe that the Treaties should
include a definition of subsidiarity, not simply (as at present)
state that the principle applies, between the EU and Member States.
This definition would make clear that the principle applies within
Member States, as well as between national governments and the
EU. We accept that the implementation of the principle within
Member States is a matter for each State, for two reasons. First,
the competences of local and regional government across Europe
vary greatly at present, making a uniform approach impracticable.
Second, because to try to lay down detailed guidelines at European
"level" is itself in contradiction with the principle.
28. Whilst arguing for subsidiarity to be
defined in the Treaty, we are not seeking to make the principle
legally enforceable. To do so would make the EU far too legalistic
at this stage of its development, giving too much policy remit
to the judges. But this means that strong political bodies are
required to oversee the proper implementation of the principle.
One such body is needed to "police" the principle between
EU and Member States. But we also believe that some such body
will be required within each Member State, to monitor the principle
as between national, regional and local government. We do not
here seek to define the composition of these bodies. In the European
domain, we see a role for national as well as European Parliamentarians.
29. In tandem with subsidiarity, we believe
it is now timely for the Treaties to recognise formally the vital
role of local government. The Council of Europe's Charter of Local
Self-Government has been signed by all Member States, and ratified
by most (we understand that steps to ratify are at last being
taken forward in France). We recommend that the principles of
local self-government are set out or referred to in the Treaties,
giving some broad guidance to the practical application of the
30. LGA and LGIB have consistently, on a
cross-party basis, supported the enlargement process. There is
not space here to go into details, but we do have some concern
that enlargement may lead to even more lack of interest in the
EU, eg from local authorities who see regional funding "moving
east". This makes it all the more important to improve the
clarity, quality and relevance of the EU's remit, work and presentation,
and to engage wider sectors more fully in European policy shaping.
What contribution can be made by regional and
local government and devolved institutions in the UK and elsewhere,
and should the EU have any new institutional arrangements in this
31. Throughout this submission, we have
argued for a fuller involvement of local and regional government
in European governance, and do not seek to repeat what we have
said. We believe that there should be a European dialogue with
local and regional government, analogous to the social dialogue.
A dialogue is a two-way conversation, not simply consultation
(though it should include formal consultation). This dialogue
on Europe should operate within the UK also.
32. On the other hand, we do not argue for
any major changes to the EU institutional set-up. Since the Council
is a legislator, there is a need to make its proceedings more
open. Under the Treaty of Nice, all members of the Committee of
the Regions will have to have a democratic mandate (already required
under UK law), and we consider that the views of the CoR will
need to be given more attention than has always been the case.
If there are steps to set up a second chamber of the European
Parliament (on which we do not have a policy position), then we
believe there are strong arguments to include local and regional
representatives, as well as national Parliamentarians. This would
reflect the existing approach to second chambers within some Member
33. We should add that there is a further
question of importance under this general heading, that of the
role of regions with legislative powers (such as the German Laender
and Scottish Parliament). Some of these regions are now meeting
together as a separate grouping and aim to increase their involvement
and influence in European law and policy-making. Some of them
have argued that the Committee of the Regions should be split
into two separate "chambers", one for this category
of regions. The LGA has recently considered this question, and
has emphasized the need to maintain the Committee of the Regions
as a common forum for all of the infra-national democratic authorities,
since local and regional government are of equal importance. LGA
recognizes that regions with legislative powers have some common
interests which they will wish from time to time to meet to co-ordinate,
but that such co-ordination must in no way undermine the overall
interests of infra-national governments.
How should the debate on the future of Europe
be conducted, eg should there be a convention, and if so, how
could it be made representative and how should it operate?
34. LGIB/LGA have not taken a specific position
on the issue of a convention, but if there is a formal body of
this kind, then we strongly believe that local and regional government
need to be represented on it. We believe it vital that the Committee
of the Regions, at least, has full membership. More broadly, we
believe that a purely intergovernmental involvement in the process
of Treaty changes is no longer appropriate. The issues are of
wide interest and concern, and as part of our overall approach
to governance, we emphasize the need for partnership and participation.
Local and regional governments are, of course, governmental not
non-governmental actors, and our contribution should not be conflated
with that of NGOs and civil society.
35. Accordingly, we favour the setting up
of some kind of body (convention or forum) that brings together
the wide range of those with an interest in the future governance
of Europe, which by definition includes local and regional government.
Such a body does not necessarily need to strive for a single option
to put to the IGC, but given the likely divergences, needs to
clarify the issues and choices. The convention or forum itself
needs to be open and participative, enabling the widest range
of inputs from citizens and their organisations.
4 October 2001