“The problem is not in the lack of confidence into the EU institutions, but in the decision process, which is not part of the public sphere because of its secrecy”. This tweet is a reaction (for which I am very thankful) to my interview on the e-participation of citizens, that was published on the website of the Institute for electronic participation (InEPA). As 140 characters are not enough to answer to it, I decided to write my answer here. Briefly I can say just the following – the lack of confidence into the EU institutions (and the consequent feeling of impotence) is a consequence of the lack of knowledge of their work and of the decision process. Which is in fact not even so closed as it seems.
The European Union or “Brussels” and its institutions are usually depicted as something distant, almost mystical, that use complicated and closed processes to adopt legislation that would legalise genetically modified organisms, privatise our water, forbid the emergency transports with military or police helicopters and punish us if we won’t sell all the State-owned companies.
In any case, neither of the above mentioned things is true. However, if any of them were true, the process would be public and traceable on-line with two simple tools – the EUR-Lex database of EU legislation and the Legislative Observatory of the European Parliament – OEIL. I prefer the second one as it contains more information and data and it is also more user-friendly. To “trace” the procedure the only thing somene needs is the reference number of the document and with just a few clicks all the data are showed on the screen.
THE LONG ROAD TO ADOPT EU LEGISLATION
The life of each directive or regulation begins with its proposal prepared by the European Commission. This proposal, in the form of a “COM” document, is wholly published on EUR-Lex (in all the EU official languages at the moment of the publishing) and accessible to everyone. Usually the proposal is preceded by a “green” or “white” paper with which the Commission starts public consultations on the proposal itself. Also this texts are published in all EU languages online. The legislative proposal then follows the whole established procedure, which is possible to follow live online.
For a better and easier presentation I will present you the various tools through the Directive on consumers’ rights, adopted in 2011. The basic details are available in EUR-Lex (in the “Procedure” tab of the document). In this case you can see the history of the procedure and you can also access to the main documents adopted by the various institutions implied in the procedure.
More details are available in the Legislative Observatory of the Parliament. Beside the main documents, there you can find also all the amendments prepared by the MEPs, the main stages of the procedure, the data regarding the rapporteur(s) and shadow rapporteur(s) and the current status of the procedure.
The final text is then published on EUR-Lex. In case of a directive, there is also the possibility to access the national laws that implemented the directive in national legislation and therefore follow the national adoption procedure. This data are available in the “Linked documents” tab, under the section “Display the national implementing measures“.
THE “WEAKNESSES” OF THE PROCEDURE
Because of the above mentioned reasons it is impossible to say that the decision process is closed to the public. However, this doesn’t mean that the process is perfect. The formal procedure is defined, while the “informal” procedures are more problematic. With this I have in mind the work of lobbyists and other interest groups, that in a way or another are trying to influence the final text of a legislative proposal. To tackle this problem the Commission and the Parliament prepared the Transparency Register, in which the individuals and the organisations who get in touch with the EU decision makers should be enrolled. I say should because the enrollment to the register is not obligatory, while it is however true that if an individual or interest group would like to enter to the Parliament needs to be registered in the register.
The enrollment into the register itself however doesn’t guarantee a bigger transparency in the contacts between lobbyists and decision makers. There is no rule that would require an official, MEP or Commissioner to declare that he met or got in touch with a lobbyist. In the case of the MEPs and Commissioners it is up to their own decisions and standards.
Nevertheless, this practice will soon change. The Commission yesterday adopted new rules, that will enter into force on the next 1st of December (next Monday). Based on these rules the Commissioners, the members of their cabinets and the Directorate-Generals of the Commission will have to publish on their websites the date, location and topic of their meetings with lobbyists.
The possibilities to follow the procedure therefore exists. We just need to use them. As I stated in the before mentioned interview, the game with the elections doesn’t end – it just starts. It is on us to press our representatives and leaders and let them know about the problems, irregularities and ask for clarifications. This is especially important when our representatives adopt decisions that will affect our daily lives. If there is something you don’t like speak up and request clarifications! In any case you must not just passively follow the changes and accept the consequences.