Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


1. Introduction

During the run-up to the White Paper on Governance (hereafter: WP) the Commission behaved in some respects like a rather imperious wizard , albeit posturing in New Age clothing , consulting with external experts and so-called satellite "new players in Europe"(Governance Team, 2001), maintaining on-line contact with the public via its (by its own standards- extensive) web-site, combing inter alia scientific literature for a "magic cure" (WP, pp.3 and 9) as well as conducting exhaustive in-house discussions. The adjective imperious relates both to the process and to the outcome. The assumption that the Commission's role and contribution could be to find just that "magic" formula which would enable it to transform the future of democracy in the EU (the sub-text, both literally and figuratively from the beginning of the WP process) gradually became submerged in its own highly specific obsession, namely to re-discover and re-invigorate its own role in the decision-making, prompting it to mid-course change into rather more traditional garb.

Side-stepping somewhat well-debated principles such as those of proportionality and of (active) subsidiarity (stressed in the run-up, the public hearings and in the reports of various internal Working Groups) the Commission plumped squarely in its WP for a notion of "good governance" very reminiscent of the more general terms used by the Committee of Independent Experts in their Second report of September 1999 on the problems with the Santer Commission (Committee of Independent Experts, volume 2). This notion of "good governance" is filled-in in a rather marginal fashion in the WP (p. 10) and is sufficiently vague and uncontroversial to potentially mean everything to everyone without resolving very much. Certainly it offers no threat or loss of focus to a Commission intent on consolidating its own position at all costs and simply represents a rather loose set of aspirations common to all "government" worthy of its name. Thus, for example, there is nothing very new or substantive in the conclusion that in the name of "more openness" the Commission will provide up to date and online information on preparation of policy through all stages of decision-making" (WP, blz. 4) nor that the Commission will "establish and publish minimum standards for consultation" with regional and local partners as well as representatives of civil society (WP, blz. 4) .At the same time the Commission devotes most space and effort to emphasising its role in the classic "Community method"of decision-making and its own role in the process of initiating it as if the nature and scope of the problems facing the EU have not changed in the 50 years since it was first conceived.Given the almost unbearable lightness of some of the Commission's proposed solutions and tracks forward and the less than bewitching spectacle launched by the WP itself, the image emerges of a light-weight and uninspired Sorcerers' Apprentice unwittingly adding to existing misunderstandings and problems.

Much of value has already been said in this symposium on various aspects of the White Paper. In this contribution I deliberately stand back somewhat from the details of the WP itself to focus and offer some reflections on the evolution of the broader context of governance right across the spectrum of EU rules, processes and structures. In this context I will isolate some trends in the manner in which the idea of public administration has evolved at the level of the EU and will locate the content of the WP in the context of that wider perspective. In the process I will place a special emphasis on the role of information and communications technology in our evolving notions of governance (more active participation of a wide range of stakeholders or public administration "unbounded": see Shapiro and infra.) and how it facilitates, even transforms that process. After all it can be said that information and communications technology (hereafter: ICT) not only creates new possibilities in the relationships between citizens and public administration, it also transforms existing possibilities and relationships (see, ICT and Government Committee, 2001). I thus raise the role of a mature and active and informed public sphere as a complement to representative institutions in terms of holding EU bureaucracy in all its multi-faceted forms accountable.




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