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Transparency, simplification of the Treaties and quality of Community legislation

INTRODUCTION

The European Union often deals with complex technical matters, whilst its institutional arrangements are unique and difficult to understand on first acquaintance. Frequent misunderstandings have thus arisen between the European institutions, national political and economic interests and the European public at large. To promote a better understanding of the European integration process, the institutions are gradually adopting more transparent ways of working and taking decisions.

The concept of "transparency" applies mainly to the question of access to Union information and documents but it also has to do with the production of clearly understandable legislative texts. It involves not only producing a single consolidated version of each text which has undergone amendments (such consolidation may be done formally or informally) but also laying down drafting rules so that any piece of legislation adopted in each of the Community's official languages (of which there are currently eleven) is as clear as possible.

The Treaty of Amsterdam confers certain rights on the public and makes recommendations to the institutions with a view to ensuring that the fullest possible information is available and thus improving the democratic workings of the European Union.

TRANSPARENCY

To clarify the concept of "transparency" some amendments have been made to the EC Treaty.

A new Article 255 has been inserted, giving any Union citizen and any natural or legal person residing or having a registered office in a member state the right of access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.

The general principles governing the right of access and any restrictions on the grounds of public or private interest are to be fixed by the Council, acting under the codecision procedure with Parliament, within two years after the Treaty of Amsterdam enters into force. The three institutions concerned must include specific rules on access to documents in their Rules of Procedure.

A third paragraph has been added to Article 207 (ex Article 151), requiring the Council to grant access to documents relating to its legislative activities. As a minimum requirement, the results of votes, explanations of votes, and statements in the minutes must be made public.

These provisions clarify the rights of the public regarding access to documents and apply to all areas covered by the first and third pillars. However, they do not cover the common foreign and security policy, since that involves diplomatic rather than legislative activities. Access to certain national documents may also be restricted if the member state concerned so requests (Declaration adopted by the intergovernmental conference on Article 255).

SIMPLIFICATION AND CONSOLIDATION OF THE TREATIES

It has become difficult to read the original Treaties because of all the deletions, additions and amendments made by the Single European Act and the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam. To make the EU Treaty and the EC Treaty easier to follow, all their articles have been renumbered.

In a Declaration adopted by the Intergovernmental Conference, the Member States also agreed to produce consolidated versions of all the Treaties. This consolidation will have no legal status but will provide more legible texts from which any lapsed provisions will have been deleted.

QUALITY OF THE DRAFTING OF COMMUNITY LEGISLATION

The Intergovernmental Conference adopted a Declaration incorporating the conclusions of the Edinburgh European Council (11-12 December 1992) and the Council Resolution of 8 June1993. This Declaration stresses that Community legislation must be clearly drafted if it is to be properly implemented by the competent national authorities and better understood by the general public.

In particular, the Conference calls on the three main institutions responsible for drafting Community legislation (the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission) to establish guidelines for improving the quality of the texts which they draft, amend or adopt.

The Conference also called for the codification of legislative texts to be speeded up.

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