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Green Paper on the European Transparency Initiative
This Green Paper launched a public consultation on three themes aiming to improve transparency in decision-making procedures: the need for a more structured framework governing the activities of interest representatives, the need for feedback on the Commission’s consultation of civil society and the mandatory disclosure of information about the beneficiaries of EU funds under shared management. The intention was to build on a series of measures already put in place by the Commission, in particular those on transparency and openness since the White Paper on European governance.
Green Paper of 3 May 2006 – European transparency initiative [COM(2006) 194 final – Official Journal C 151 of 29.6.2006].
When launching the Transparency Initiative on 9 November 2005, the Commission drew a distinction between three areas of action:
- fuller information about the management and use of Community funds;
- professional ethics within the European institutions;
- the framework within which lobby groups and civil society organisations* operate.
In the field of funding, it set up a website to allow better scrutiny of use of EU funds under centralised management.
A second series of measures meant that debates could be restarted with the other European institutions on:
- the rules and standards on professional ethics of political appointees in the European institutions;
- a review of the legislation on access to documents;
- a revision of the legal framework regulating the activities of the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
Finally, the Commission identified three major components of the European Transparency Initiative, to be driven forward on the basis of an open public consultation, that are the subject of this Green Paper.
Interested parties were invited to submit their opinions on these three themes. The consultation opened on 3 May and closed on 31 August 2006. All contributions have been published on the Commission website below.
Transparency and interest representation (lobbying)
The Commission’s existing policy on transparency in lobbying* is based on two different categories of measures. On the one hand, there is the information provided to the general public about the relations between interest representatives and the Commission in order to allow outside scrutiny. On the other, there are the rules on integrity, which govern the proper conduct of those being lobbied and of the lobbyists* themselves.
A number of options can be considered for reinforcing the external scrutiny of lobbying:
- providing more extensive information on who has contributed to the development of a policy or a legal framework;
- developing an incentive-based registration system.
Regarding the first point, the Commission intends to ensure that, during the public consultations, interest groups will be systematically asked to fill in an electronic questionnaire about their objectives, financial situation and the interests they represent.
The Commission is also studying the possibility of developing and managing a web-based voluntary registration system for all interest groups and lobbyists who wish to be consulted on EU initiatives. To qualify for entry in the register, applicants would need to provide information on who they represent, what their mission is and how they are funded. They would also be required to sign up to a code of ethics.
The Commission, which does not consider a compulsory registration system to be an appropriate option, favours a tighter system of self-regulation. It suggests checking whether, after an appropriate period of time, the system of self-regulation has worked, with consideration then given, if necessary, to a system of compulsory measures.
Alongside external scrutiny of contacts with lobbyists, integrity rules are another essential contribution to transparency in lobbying. The Commission has taken the view that voluntary codes of conduct for lobbyists can play a useful supporting role. In the 1992 Communication on special interest groups, lobbyists were invited to adopt their own codes of conduct on the basis of minimum criteria proposed by the Commission. In this context, the Commission considers that the system should be enhanced by the addition of a system of monitoring and sanctions in the event of incorrect registration and/or breach of the code of conduct.
Feedback on application of the minimum standards for consultation
The Commission adopted a Communication on the minimum standards for consultation in December 2002. The objective was to create a transparent and coherent general framework for consultation. The overall rationale was to ensure that interested parties are properly heard in the Commission’s policy-making process.
The minimum standards have been in force since the beginning of 2003. They concern the general principles applicable to consultation, i.e. participation, openness, accountability, effectiveness and coherence.
In the Commission’s view, the general assessment for the period 2003-2005 was that overall compliance was satisfactory, with most of the minimum standards being correctly applied by Commission departments. However, contributions to open public consultations were not published on the internet in every case and in some cases there was insufficient feedback on how comments received via consultations were or were not taken into account in the final policy proposal from the Commission.
Disclosure of the identity of beneficiaries of Community funds
In the Green Paper, the European Commission affirms its commitment to raising awareness of the use made of EU money, notably by explaining better what Europe does and why it matters.
Regarding the use of Community funds, most of the EU budget is not spent centrally and directly by the Commission but in partnership with the Member States. Most of the information on beneficiaries of Community funds is therefore currently in the hands of each Member State. The extent to which information is made public differs significantly from one Member State to another.
Citizens often turn to the European Commission for information about the beneficiaries of Community funds if such information is not disclosed at a regional or national level. This situation puts the Commission in a difficult position since it either does not have this information or does not have the right to hand it out without the prior agreement of the Member State concerned. Moreover, the restrictive approach taken to publishing information by some Member States is often based on national law or data protection practices.
The Commission is of the opinion that the time has come to overcome these obstacles by drawing up a new EU legal framework directly applicable in all Member States so as to ensure a consistent approach towards all beneficiaries of EU funds.
The Commission has stressed the importance of a “high level of transparency” to ensure that the Union is “open to public scrutiny and accountable for its work”. It believes that high standards of transparency are part of the legitimacy of any modern administration. Against this background, the Commission launched the “European Transparency Initiative” (ETI) in November 2005.
It was intended that this initiative would build on a series of measures already put in place by the Commission, in particular those taken as part of the overall reforms implemented since 1999 and in the White Paper on European governance. Some of the major achievements in this field include:
- the legislation on access to documents (Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001);
- the launch of databases providing information about consultative bodies and expert groups advising the Commission;
- wide consultations of stakeholders and in-depth impact assessments prior to legislative proposals;
- the Commission’s “Code of good administrative behaviour”, which is its benchmark for quality service in its relations with the public.
Key terms used in the act
For further information, please visit the European Transparency Initiative website.