Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


2. Improvements

The chapter on "Better involvement" may be used as an example for the improvement of the propositions within the conceptual framework of the present White Paper. Let us follow the the argument of the White Paper that citizens should get more actively involved (WP 15). The most plausible approach would be to start with an analysis of the deficiencies of the present system. Many of them are well-known and documented in some of the Commission's own papers (COM(2000) 11final, 18.1.00). They are, however, not reflected in the White Paper at all. Just to recall some of the most obvious deficiencies:

(1) The unbalanced representation of societal interests. We all know that, because of the logic of collective action (Olson) and the unequal distribution of the capacity to become organised, to raise a voice and have an impact on policy-makers (Offe) we are faced with unequal interest representation which is even more pronounced at EU level than it is at national level. Producer interests are well-represented and well-equipped with financial and human resources; they perform many activities and enjoy well-established contacts with EU institutions. Organisations representing the interests of the ordinary citizen are comparatively weak, ill-equipped and less numerous. Building bridges from local level to supranational level for grass-root actors and, thereby, forming trans-national alliances is a formidable task which only few can achieve. To make matters worse, they have little to offer to EU institutions which could turn them into an attractive negotiating partner.

(2) Insecurity about the yardstick for "representativity". To ask for information in order to know who is talking on behalf of whom, to get a better assessment on what sections of society are represented and how many citizens are involved is necessary, but not sufficient. We are faced with quite a number of organisations that do not correspond to the ordinary type of interest association which is based on membership. Entrepreneurial organisations such as Greenpeace can hardly be excluded on the basis of not meeting the above-mentioned criteria of representativity.

(3) Selectivity in the interaction between EU institutions and interest representatives. Though resources are decisive for interest group activities, access and close co-operation depend on the preferences of EU institutions. Case studies on individual policy initiatives give ample evidence that, in particular, the Commission chooses of its own free will who gets access and whose advice will be asked for and listened to. EU institutions have a rich choice, and yet they have decided not to be constrained by any formal and informal rules. Moreover, they hardly ever have to face political sanctions for being unbalanced. This procedural practice is defended on grounds of convenience and efficiency, but it clearly lacks legitimacy.

The White Paper claims that the Commission is dedicated to involving `civil society' on a larger scale. This dedication makes it indispensable that a second thought be given to the problematique of unequal representation, to the unresolved question of adequate criteria of representativity, to the issue of avoiding selectivity and to the communication overload. The White Paper does not provide any answers to these problems and, to make matters worse, does not even pose these questions. Some phrases read as if the authors confuse wishful thinking with reality,3 and some arguments are unbalanced. Information overload is mentioned with respect to the ad hoc consultation bodies. The Commission sees a need "to rationalise this unwieldy system" (WP 17) but it does not see any parallels to the envisaged involvement of `civil society'. The proposals included in the White Paper give evidence that the Commission is far from managing of its own consultation process efficiently: it still has to take stock `of existing sectoral consultative' (WP 17), and it aims at nothing more than `a code of conduct that sets minimum standards' (WP 17), and it `intends to establish...a comprehensive on-line database with details of civil society organisations active at European level, which should act as a catalyst to improve their internal organisation' (WP 15). This very modest regulatory impetus gives preference to the principle of `openness' and leaves the question of whom is consulted and heard to the discretion of the individual civil servant within the Commission.

There is no deliberate strategy regarding objectives and no consideration of how best to use public `involvement': Why should `civil society' be involved:

A White Paper should not be confused with a seminar paper. Nevertheless, to make the White Paper presently under review convincing, a more stringent line of argument would be needed.

3 Just to give one example: organisations of the so-called "civil society" are not mobilising those suffering from exclusion or discrimination, but are mainly organising those who have already the choice of exit and voice.




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