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Development of relations between the Commission and civil society

The Commission is keen to improve the consistency and effectiveness of its consultation process, in order to encourage external parties to participate in the development of European policies. This presupposes the definition of general principles and minimum standards with which the Commission must comply. These principles and standards guarantee direct and fair relations with organised civil society.

ACT

Communication from the Commission of 11 December 2002, Towards a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue - General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission [COM(2002) 704 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

By establishing a consultation process, the Commission is encouraging the participation of external interested parties in the development of European policies. Starting the consultation at an early stage in the legislative procedure helps to improve the effectiveness of policies whilst reinforcing the involvement of interested parties and the general public.

External consultation process

The consultation and dialogue are part of the European legislative procedure and complement the work of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union in the development of policy. The scope of the consultation depends on the potential impact of a proposal on a particular sector or on whether it represents a major policy reform.

This process differs clearly from the internal decision-making process and the specific consultation processes provided for in the treaties or secondary legislation, as well as in international agreements.

The process for the consultation of interested external parties is not legally binding. Moreover, it cannot be indefinite or permanent.

The Commission advocates open governance involving as broad a participation by citizens as possible, in a growing number of fields.

The specific role of organised civil society

Civil society organisations act as relays between citizens and the European institutions, thus encouraging policy dialogue and the active participation of citizens in achieving the aims of the European Union (EU).

The departments of the Commission thus conduct structured dialogue with these organisations. Improving the consultation procedures will guarantee a more consistent and interactive approach. Interactive mechanisms will allow the impact of Community policies to be assessed, via the feedback of information and the consultation of panels.

Information on the Commission's formal or structured advisory bodies in which civil society organisations participate can be found in the CONECCS database (Consultation, European Commission and Civil Society), which also includes a voluntary list of civil society organisations established at European level.

The Commission also supports the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. These institutional advisory bodies acts as relays for the views of organised civil society and regional and local authorities respectively.

A consistent consultation framework

More systematic consultation calls for a rationalisation of procedures and the availability of a structured channel for participants' views to be expressed. Interested parties can express their views via the Internet portal " Your voice in Europe ".

The consultation is subject to certain general principles, relating to:

  • the broadest possible participation of citizens, from the preparation of European policies until their implementation;
  • the openness and responsibility of each European institution, so that the decision-making process is more visible and more easily understandable for everyone;
  • the effectiveness of the consultations, which are conducted at a sufficiently early stage so as to have a real influence on the development of policies;
  • the consistency and flexibility of the consultation procedures, so that they can be adapted to the various categories of interests.

The consultation must respect certain minimum standards, which provide that:

  • the content of the consultation must be clear. All communication must be sufficiently complete and concise to encourage the interested parties to respond;
  • the groups consulted must be representative and able to express their views;
  • the consultation must be publicised as broadly as possible and be geared as far as possible to the target audience;
  • the timeframe for participation must be long enough for the consulted parties to be able to submit their responses, i.e. at least eight weeks for the receipt of written consultations and 20 working days for meetings;
  • information provided by the parties consulted must be accompanied by a receipt, and the results of the consultations must be publicised.

These consultation principles and standards apply in particular to key Commission proposals, identified in the Commission's programme of work.

These general principles and minimum standards must be complemented by the dissemination of good practices, such as the diversity, responsibility and integrity of the information gathering exercise.

Background

In this Communication, the Commission is fulfilling the undertakings it made in its 2001 White Paper on European governance to reinforce the culture of consultation and dialogue in the European Union.

This Communication also contributes to the 'Action Plan for Better Regulation' and the new approach for evaluating the impact of Community legislation.

Key terms used in the act
  • Organised civil society: Although there is no legal definition of this concept, the term may be used to designate all organisations associating parties from the labour market, organisations representing various socio-economic groups, non-government organisations, community-based and denominational organisations. These groups are the main structures in society outside the State and the public administration.
  • Comitology: according to the Treaty establishing the European Community, it is for the Commission to implement legislation at Community level. To do this, it may call on the assistance of a committee comprising representatives of the Member States in order to establish dialogue with the national administrations. The European Parliament also has an important role in the comitology procedure, as it is entitled to express an opinion on the implementation of legislative acts adopted in codecision.

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission of 5 June 2002, Consultation document: Towards a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue - Proposal for general principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission [COM(2002) 277 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission launched a consultation to find out the views of all the parties concerned with the improvement of its external consultation process. These results were incorporated in the final version of the Communication from the Commission concerning the drafting of general principles and minimum standards for consultations.

Commission White Paper of 25 July 2001 on European Governance [COM(2001) 428 final - Official Journal C 287 of 12.10.2001].

Commission Discussion paper of 18 January 2000, The Commission and Non-Governmental Organisations: Building a Stronger Partnership [COM(2000) 11 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
This Discussion Paper emphasises the Commission's desire to build stronger partnerships with non-government organisations (NGOs). They contribute by their work towards reinforcing participative democracy by improving the representation of certain groups of citizens with the European institutions, as well as with their support for the definition of policies, the management of projects and European integration. Having identified the main issues that hamper such partnerships, the Commission proposes simplifying funding procedures, facilitating access to information and establishing regular dialogue through formalised consultations.

Last updated: 02.12.2005

See also

For more information, please consult the site The European Commission and Civil Society

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