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White Paper on governance

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White Paper on governance

The Commission has launched a vast reform of governance in order to drive forward a wide-ranging democratic process in the Union, and proposes four major changes: more involvement of citizens, more effective definition of policies and legislation, engagement in the debate on global governance, and finally the refocusing of policies and institutions on clear objectives.


Communication from the Commission of 25 July 2001 "European governance - A white paper" [COM(2001) 428 final - Official Journal C 287 of 12.10.2001].


It is necessary to reform European governance in order to bring citizens closer to the European institutions.

Five principles combine to form the basis of good governance:

  • openness: the European institutions should attach more importance to transparency and communication in their decision-making;
  • participation: citizens must be more systematically involved in the drafting and implementation of policies;
  • accountability: the role of each party in the decision-making process needs to be clarified. Each actor involved should then assume responsibility for the role given to them;
  • effectiveness: decisions need to be taken at the appropriate level and time, and deliver what is needed;
  • coherence: the EU conducts extremely diverse policies which need to be pursued coherently.

The proposals in this White Paper do not necessarily require new treaties. This is first and foremost a question of political will, to which all the institutions and Member States need to commit.

To reform governance of the European Union, the Commission proposes four major changes.


Policies should no longer be decided at the top. The legitimacy of the EU now lies with the participation of its citizens.

More openness in the way the Union works

Participation depends on people being able to take part in public debate. For this to happen, the general public needs to be more actively informed about European issues. The Commission will call on national and local networks and authorities in order to present information which is adapted to the concerns of European citizens. The Europa website will form an interactive platform for dialogue and discussion. The Commission also intends to continue developing Eur-lex. The Council and the European Parliament need to make their information more accessible throughout the codecision procedure, particularly at the conciliation phase. Finally, the Member States should promote public debate on European affairs.

Reaching out to citizens through regional and local democracy

In order to build a better partnership across the various levels, the Commission proposes a number of initiatives, including:

  • participation by local-government associations in policy development: the Commission notes that Community decisions fail to take sufficient account of local and regional knowledge. It therefore proposes to step up cooperation between local-government associations and the Committee of the Regions. It also suggests that the latter conduct a more systematic examination of the local and regional impact of certain directives. Finally, the Member States should improve the involvement of local actors in EU policy-making;
  • greater flexibility in the implementation of certain Community policies with a strong territorial impact: the Commission proposes that contracts be concluded between the Member States, regions, local authorities and the Commission. These contracts would allow the local authorities to implement Community legislation, whilst taking the wide diversity of local conditions into account;
  • overall policy coherence: European policies work too often by adopting a sectoral approach. These should form part of a coherent whole and address their territorial impact in order to achieve more sustainable and balanced territorial development within the Union. The Commission intends to develop indicators to identify where coherence is needed.

Involving civil society

The Commission considers that civil society plays an important role in the development of Community policies. It will continue to encourage the activities of non-governmental organisations, the social partners and civil society in general. The Commission points out that the organisations representing civil society should themselves apply the principles of good governance as a show of their responsibility and openness. By the end of 2001, it will have set up an online database of civil society organisations.

As a final point, the Economic and Social Committee should give its opinions before rather than after proposals have been transmitted to the legislature, in order to contribute more towards shaping policies.

More effective and transparent consultation at the heart of EU policy-shaping

The institutions and the Member States should step up their efforts to consult better on EU policies. The European Parliament should play a prominent role, given its task of representing citizens. It could, for example, make more frequent use of public hearings. More encouragement could also be given to the involvement of national parliaments.

The Commission intends to clarify how consultations are run. It will publish a review of existing consultative fora for each sector. It also aims to provide a framework for consultation by drawing up a code of conduct that sets minimum standards. These standards should improve the representativeness of civil society organisations and structure their debate with the Commission. In some policy sectors, where consultative practices are already well established, the Commission seeks to develop more extensive partnership arrangements. It then invites the other Institutions to apply a similar approach to their own activities.

Connecting with networks

Networks link businesses, communities, research centres, and regional and local authorities at a European or even global level. These networks can enhance the success of Community policies. The Commission will work more closely together with them to enable them to contribute to decision shaping and policy execution. It will examine how transnational cooperation between regional or local actors could be better supported.


This White Paper aims to make Community decisions more effective in order to win back the support and confidence of European citizens.

Restoring confidence in expert advice

The recent food crises and the ethical issues raised by the advent of bio-technologies have highlighted the need to inform people more about what is known and where uncertainty persists on a scientific level. The system of expert committees used by the Union is opaque and public confidence in expert advice needs to be restored. From June 2002 onwards, the Commission will publish guidelines on how to make its use of expert advice more responsible, pluralistic and transparent. The Commission also suggests the networking of expertise, which too often is organised at national level.

Better and faster regulation - combining policy instruments for better results

The European Commission has identified seven factors for improving regulation:

  • proposals must be prepared on the basis of an analysis to determine whether action at EU level is needed or not;
  • the choice between legislation and less binding tools should be made carefully;
  • it is necessary to determine the most appropriate type of legislative tool. Regulations should be used when there is a need for uniform application across the Union. Framework directives are appropriate when greater flexibility in implementation is desirable. They offer the advantage of being agreed quickly by Council and the European Parliament. Finally, the Commission suggests making greater use of "primary" legislation limited to essential elements, leaving the implementing authority to fill in the technical detail;
  • the Commission wishes to promote co-regulation, when this provides value added and serves the general interest: co-regulation allows the parties involved to define implementing measures in accordance with the objectives defined by the legislator;
  • Community action should be complemented or reinforced in certain areas through the use of the open method of coordination. This method is a way of encouraging cooperation, the exchange of best practice, and adding value at a European level where there is little scope for legislative solutions;
  • the Commission intends to be more systematic in evaluating the actions carried out and drawing the necessary conclusions;
  • the Commission promises to withdraw its proposals if these are too burdensome or complicated, following inter-institutional bargaining. It also suggests that the Council and the European Parliament speed up the legislative process, where possible. To do so, the Council should vote whenever a qualified majority is possible, rather than seek unanimity at all costs. The Council and the European Parliament should, finally, attempt to reach agreement at the first reading.

Simplifying Community law

The Commission proposes the launch of an ambitious programme to simplify Community legislation. The Member States should, however, refrain from adding disproportionate requirements when transposing Community directives.

Better application of EU rules through regulatory agencies

The Commission wishes to create new independent regulatory agencies with decision-making power. This decision-making power will be strictly defined: the agencies will not be able to arbitrate between public interests, or take measures of general scope. They will be subject to a Community system of control.

Better application at national level

The Member States need to step up their efforts to improve the quality of transposing and enforcing Community law. To do so, the Commission proposes that they:

  • set up twinning arrangements between national administrations, in order to exchange best practice in this field;
  • create coordination units responsible for enforcing Community law within the central government of each Member State;
  • make national courts and lawyers more familiar with Community law;
  • create similar arrangements in the Member States to the EU Ombudsman and the Petitions' Committee of the European Parliament, in order to improve the capacity for dispute settlement.

The Commission will vigorously pursue infringements of Community law. To do so, it will draw up a list of priorities for the investigation of possible breaches. However, a lengthy judicial procedure against a Member State is neither the most practical solution nor the fastest. The Commission will therefore continue to pursue active dialogue with the Member States in order to defuse disputes at the earliest possible stage.


EU citizens want the EU to be powerful on the international stage. The Commission emphasises that the Union's first step must be to reform governance successfully at home in order to enhance the case for change at an international level. The European Union should then apply the principles of good governance to its global responsibility by, for example, being more accessible to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders.

The European Union should strive to improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of global rule-making, working to modernise and reform international institutions. The Commission will promote the use of new tools at global level as a complement to "hard" international law.

The Commission will, finally, propose a review of the Union's international representation so that it speaks with a single voice.


The refocusing of policy, i.e. the clear identification of an overall strategic policy for the Union, is necessary so that people have a better understanding of the EU's political project. This is no easy task, as the sectoral thinking behind EU policies is not conducive to the coherence of Community action.

Refocused EU policies

Refocusing policies means that the Union should identify more clearly its long-term objectives. The Commission already makes a effort in the field of strategic planning through a number of initiatives such as:

The European Council should play a more important role in shaping the direction of the Union.

Refocused institutions

Each institution should refocus on its key functions: the Commission initiates and executes policy; the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament adopt legislation and budgets; the European Council sets political guidance. This refocusing of the institutions will make it possible to reinvigorate the Community method. Nevertheless, this Community method needs to be updated by, for example, clarifying the roles of each party.

The Council of Ministers should arbitrate more between sectoral interests. It should develop its capacity to coordinate all aspects of EU policy both in the Council and at home.

The European Parliament and all the national parliaments should stimulate a public debate on the future of Europe and its policies. The European Parliament should focus its budget control on the attainment of political objectives.

The Commission concludes by suggesting that it be made clearer who is responsible for policy execution. The conditions under which the Commission adopts executive measures should be reviewed. In particular, it wants the European Parliament to be involved in monitoring implementation. It feels that Article 202 of the Treaty has become outdated because of the development of the codecision procedure which puts Council and the European Parliament on an equal footing. Finally, the Commission questions the need to maintain the regulatory and management committees.


The White Paper on Governance sets down markers for the debate on the future of Europe. It has been supplemented by an extensive process of institutional reform initiated at the European Council in Laeken and concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon.


Communication from the Commission of 6 June 2002 - European Governance: Better lawmaking [COM(2002) 275 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

This communication supplements the "Simplifying and improving the regulatory environment" action plan. Its main aim is to shift the focus of the institutions and raise the quality of implementation by the Union through a number of initiatives, including:

  • clarifying executive responsibilities: the rules governing comitology need to be clarified, chiefly through the clear definition of the roles of each institution. The European Parliament has a role to play in comitology, particularly in the areas covered by codecision;
  • supervising the creation of European agencies: the Commission will propose an interinstitutional agreement to Parliament and the Council on this matter;
  • taking account of the regional, urban and local contexts: the regional and local authorities and Member States will have the chance to conclude pilot contracts with the Commission with a view to achieving the Community's sustainable development objectives;
  • adopting a new approach to vetting application of the law: the Commission will pay more attention to the delays in implementing national application measures.

This communication concludes by reaffirming the importance of the Community method as the very basis of the European Union. A "quiet revolution in terms of the way we act", the governance reforms call for efforts by the institutions to consolidate and clarify the sharing of competences.

Communication from the Commission of 11 December 2002 on the collection and use of expertise by the Commission: principles and guidelines - "Improving the knowledge base for better policies" [COM(2002) 713 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

In the White Paper on governance, the Commission stated that it would publish guidelines on the use of expert advice by the Commission. This communication fulfils this commitment. The Commission reaffirms the three principles on which expert advice should be based: quality, openness and effectiveness. The Commission should exploit the most appropriate expertise to construct better policies. The Commission also emphasises its determination to restore the confidence of citizens in the use of expertise, by giving them access to expert advice and meetings.

Communication from the Commission of 11 December 2002 - The operating framework for the European Regulatory Agencies [COM(2002) 718 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

In this communication, the Commission specifies the tasks, procedures for setting up, and composition of the regulatory agencies. These agencies are subject to the supervision of the Commission, the European Ombudsman, the European Parliament, the Council, the Court of Auditors and the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

Communication from the Commission of 11 December 2002 - A framework for target-based tripartite contracts and agreements between the Community, the Member States and regional and local authorities [COM(2002) 709 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

This communication aims to clarify the notion of tripartite contracts mentioned in the White Paper on governance. It distinguishes target-based tripartite contracts, which ensue from the application of binding Community law, from target-based tripartite agreements, which describe agreements concluded between the Commission, a Member State and regional and local authorities outside a binding legal act. The Commission sets out the arrangements for concluding this type of agreement, and concludes by presenting a model contract or agreement.

Communication from the Commission of 11 December 2002 on the better monitoring of the application of Community law [COM(2002) 725 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

The Commission intends to improve monitoring of the application of Community law, by first of all emphasising the prevention of infringements. To do so, the Commission will develop cooperation with the Member States, chiefly by helping them with the transposition of directives. The Commission will also continue to carry out its role as guardian of the Treaties by taking action against infringements. This will be done on the basis of priority criteria relating to the seriousness of breaches. For example, the failure to transpose directives will be considered as a serious infringement and infringement proceedings will be launched immediately in this case.

Commission communication to the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of 20 March 2002 on relations with the complainant in respect of infringements of community law [COM(2002) 141 final - Official Journal C 244 of 10 October 2002].

In this communication, the Commission sets out administrative measures for the benefit of the complainant in the context of infringement proceedings, such as the methods of submitting a complaint, the protection of personal data, or the time limit for investigating complaints.

Proposal for a Council Decision of 11 December 2002 amending Decision 1999/468/EC laying down the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission [COM(2002) 719 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

In this communication, the Commission presents the Council decision on comitology. The Council agrees to include the European Parliament in supervising implementation for matters subject to codecision. The regulatory procedure will be applied when the executive measures are of general scope concerning the substance of the matter in question. The advisory procedure will be appropriate when the executive measures have an individual scope or concern the procedural arrangements for implementation.

Last updated: 21.02.2008