The EU is facing grave challenges.1 With the Internal Market and the Monetary Union more or less in place the Common Market is exhausted as a resource for further integration. The pending enlargement to the East and South, the establishment of a common foreign security policy and, not least, the question of social measures at the EU level, pose new kinds of problems for co-operation. The questions raised in these policy areas are difficult to handle within the established economic, free-trade frame of reference for the politics of the Union, as they affect the very basis for co-operation. They require a notion of the collective enterprise, i.e., a conception of the entity's foundation, mission or vision beyond that of a free market. The questions not only have to do with solving the perceived problems of the Member States, but with the setting of borders and priorities, and with defining new collective tasks. Thus, they require a conception of what the EU is or should be - i.e., of its constitution and identity.
Another set of challenges stem from the fact that, in the Member States, many are reluctant and sceptical of the Union's policies. This distrust is manifested not only in the low turnout in the elections to the European Parliament and in the Irish "No" to the Nice Treaty, but also in the loudly voiced opposition of anti-globalisation groups. Some are violently opposed to EU policies, as the demonstrations in Nice 2000 and against the Gothenburg European Council meeting last June (2001) testify to.
In the White Paper (WP) on European Governance from the EU Commission,2 there is awareness of these challenges. Different proposals for improving the functioning of the EU's systems of decision-making and implementation are outlined. By better involvement of the citizens and through more efficient decision-making and enforcement policies, the authors hope to increase the information and knowledge of the system and the loyalty and responsibility of the actors. The White Paper aims at more relevant and effective policies. By governance is meant the structure of rules and processes that affect the exercise of power, particularly with regard to openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence. These are the basic principles of good governance.
"Each principle is important for establishing more democratic governance. They underpin democracy and the rule of law in the Member States, but they apply to all levels of government - global, European, national, regional and local." (WP p.10)
More concrete measures include better and more active involvement of the groups and actors of civil society, better consultation and dialogue, on-line information, a code of conduct that sets minimum standards for what to consult on, as well as when, with whom and how, more use of framework directives (soft law), and co-regulation which combines regulatory actions with the actions of affected parties. The EU has limited power and cannot act like national governments. It has to depend on partnerships and co-arrangements with a wide set of actors, governmental and non-governmental. Extensive partnership arrangements with certain sectors should be developed from 2002. Greater flexibility and a more decentralised approach to the future regional policy are also among the instruments. Through such measures the aspiration is to connect better to the people.
But is the White Paper really taking heed of the problems causing mistrust and opposition? Does it have a correct diagnosis of the situation, and are its proposals pointing in the right direction? One may also ask whether the White Paper itself really complies with the governance standards of openness, participation and accountability. This comment is oriented towards whether the White Paper is heading the EU in the right direction; it does not address present constraints.
1 I am grateful for comments made by Águstin Menéndez, John Erik Fossum, Johan P. Olsen and Helene Sjursen.
2 COM(2001) 428 final of 25.07.2001.