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Statewatch: Comments on the Commission's White Paper on Governance
01 March 2002
Statewatch has made the following submission to the European Commission commenting on its White Paper on Governance in the EU. Also included is an overall commentary: "The European Commission’s White Paper on governance: A vista of unbearable democratic lightness in the EU?" by Professor Deirdre Curtin which first appeared in Statewatch bulletin. (this story as a pdf
Statewatch submission, 28 March 2002
1. Statewatch welcomes the Commission's initiative to publish a White Paper on Governance, and invite widespread public comment. The following comments follow the order established by the White Paper, and focus in particular upon the issues of freedom of information and governance concerns in the field of justice and home affairs.
2. As a general point, it is unfortunate that the Council has not established a similar reflection upon the accountability, transparency and legitimacy of its work, particularly given the Council's role as a legislative body and its increasing executive powers.
3. It is unfortunate that the Commission confines itself to mentioning the adoption of the Community rules on access to documents held by the Council, Commission and European Parliament without mentioning further steps necessary to implement the recent rules. As regards implementation of the new rules, it is unfortunate that the Commission did not make public its implementing rules by the deadline set out in the Regulation, given the six-month transition period set out in the Regulation. It is also unfortunate that the Commission does not consider whether broader steps should be taken to establish rules on access to information within the EU legal framework.
4. The Commission's implementing rules concerning access to documents appear to ignore the obligation in the Regulation to set up a register of documents that would cover all documents, especially given the prior ruling of the Ombudsman against the Commission on the issue of establishing a public register of its documents.
5. Furthermore, it is particularly unfortunate that the Commission has overlooked the deadline set out in the regulation on access to documents for assessing the compatibility of access rules in other legislation with the new Regulation, as well as making proposals concerning the EC's archives regulation and the rules governing existing Community agencies.
6. It is also unfortunate that the other Community bodies established by the Treaties have not taken any steps to align their access rules with the rules set out in the new Regulation on access to documents, and indeed in the case of the Court of Justice have never adopted any rules on access to documents at all. Although this failure to act is not the responsibility of the Commission, the Commission should nonetheless take steps to encourage the other bodies to act.
7. To date there are no signs of further development of Eur-lex, as mentioned in the Commission's White Paper, besides access to Official Journal texts after the time limit which previously applied. The real priority here is to connect the Eur-lex system to the registers of documents that must be established by June 2002 to implement the new Regulation on access to documents. It is unfortunate that the Commission gives no indication of what further development of Eur-lex it considers necessary.
8. In any event, it is important that the public have the opportunity to discuss and influence decision-makers before a formal legislative text is distributed, as the Commission recognises in the context of the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. To this end, Eur-lex should also be integrated with discussion papers distributed within the political institutions, including the Commission's SEC documents, which are rarely made available on Commission websites (and are paradoxically more often available on the<