Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


5. Towards `arts and crafts' good governance in the EU ?

The focus has shifted from the realm of the Commission as unsuccessful wizard, at least in terms of convincingly ordering chaotic structures and processes and anticipating signs of turbulence ahead, to that of designing an architecture up to the task of accommodating highly eclectic and diverse manifestations of EU governance. A recent and very extensive (comparative) study on Success and Failure in Public Governance (see, Bovens, 't Hart and Guy Peters, 2001) concludes a mammoth task focused on comparative national examinations, with a plea for what it terms an `arts and crafts' conception of what constitutes good governance. There may indeed be something in this image for those struggling with evolving governance structures at the level of the EU . In the process we may perhaps be inspired by the vision and at the same time the modesty of those early 20th century `arts and crafts' architects (Frank Lloyd Wright and others) who, carefully and with considerable eye for layers of detail and unpretentious workmanship, toiled to produce affordable and holistically pleasing spaces where real people could grasp the philosophy behind the structures put in place. Good governance is in this sense conceptualised as:

"...working one's way through a complex series of challenges in the most effective and politically sensitive manner possible. When doing so, people in [governments] would be working with incomplete information... and would be attempting to please public with diverse and often conflicting values. These governments would also be faced with a number of internal governance problems, not the least of which is the attempt to coordinate the activities of numerous organizations working within the public sector."

The White Paper on Governance is a missed opportunity for the Commission and for the European Union. Instead of doing some serious redrawing of the boundaries of public administration as it has evolved in law and in practice at the level of the EU itself and in relationship to the various systems of national public administration, the Commission sought refuge in rather old-fashioned thinking on the "Community method" of decision-making and its specific institutional configuration therein. Instead of placing the citizen at the centre of the European construction alongside the related concerns of accountability and democracy, it revealed a disturbingly self-interested and entrenched perspective on the future of governance in the EU. Morover the Commission, ostrich-like, refused to place its analysis in the wider perspective of the debate on the "future of Europe" and the coming Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004. Yet the overlap is considerable since a key question in both domains relates to questions of openness, transparency and accountability.

An "arts and crafts" conception of good governance as applied to the European Union requires in my view carefully crafted principles capable of reaching into every nook and cranny of governance of the EU as intertwined with that of its Member States. What mechanisms can be devised to ensure the effective and transparent co-ordination of the various actors and processes in this sense? How can our standards of accountability and of responsibility be adapted to the spread of more "unbounded" (non-hierarchial) governance also at the level of the (post-national) EU? At the same time it can be considered whether actors from a broadly based civil society should be given an opportunity to input into the public debate at certain crucial moments ( a type of "notice and comment" as provided for in the US Administrative Procedures Act and in the UN Aarhus Convention) . The initiation of such procedures at the level of the EU needs to take account of the scattered and eclectic nature of public administration at that level.

At the same time a crucial substantive challenge that lies ahead in the context of EU governance is the question to what extent ICT is transforming at that level too the relationship between the citizen and the wider public administration? An avenue worthy of serious exploration is the grant of digital access rights to information also at the level of EU public administration and governance structures. In the Netherlands the Dutch Commission on Constitutional Rights in the Digital Era drafted proposals to adapt the Dutch Constitution to the information society and included a right of access to information held by the government. Recognition of information rights can help to render the constitutional state an appropriate accommodation for the information society; such embedment is particularly important in the European (constitutional) context ( Bovens, 2001).How can our thinking on the role and significance of (broadly based) information rights in the digital era take concrete (legal) shape? It is clear that these are at the moment grossly inadequate and that one can even deduce a worsening of the situation in that regard since 11 September 2001.

Only with more openness and less unnecessary secrecy can ideas on citizen participation and holding bureacracy at the level of the EU to account take further shape. To believe that all will be solved in terms of undemocratic decision-making by simply giving more powers of co-decision to the European Parliament or institutionalising the role of national parliaments or other actors at the level of the EU is too simplistic. The Commission in many ways found the good catch-phrase ("good governance") : the debate on the future of Europe which the newly established (constitutional) "Convention" will jump-start in March 2002 must now give it some carefuly crafted shape and substance in the unique context of the European Union.




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