Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


Author: Francesca Bignami

Title: Three Generations of Participation Rights in European Administrative Proceedings


This paper develops a conceptual framework for analyzing the development of participation rights in Community administration from the early 1970's to the present day. Procedural rights can be divided into three categories, each of which is associated with a distinct phase in Community history and a particular set of institutional actors. The first set of rights, the right to a fair hearing when the Commission inflicts sanctions or other forms of hardship on individuals, first emerged in the 1970's in the context of competition proceedings and later in areas such as anti-dumping and structural funds. This phase was driven by the Court of Justice and an English, and to a lesser extent, German conception of the value of a fair hearing. The rise of transparency in the 1990's-- the requirement of openness in all Community institutions, including administration--marks the second stage. The drive for transparency was led by certain member countries with longstanding traditions of open government--the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden--as well as the European Parliament. The most recent phase in the development of process rights is the debate on whether and under what conditions, individuals, firms, and their associations, billed "civil society," should take part in Community legislative and rulemaking proceedings. The Commission and now the Convention on the Future of Europe have been the keenest proponents of giving citizens and their associations a right to participate in rulemaking and legislative proceedings.

Civil society participation is then critically examined. Representation--not expertise or good management practices--is the only justification for allocating power, within the Community policymaking process, to individual citizens and their organizations. Yet there is no consensus in Europe, where republican, corporatist, and liberal traditions continue to flourish, on the legitimacy of representation outside of political parties and the electoral process. Without wider consensus, I conclude that associational participation in Community policymaking should not be entrenched and that the Commission should, in mediating the informal influence of civil society actors, act in awareness of its innate institutional bias toward liberal interest group pluralism.

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