Friday, 26 December 2008

Official Journal of the European Union

Is the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU or OJ for short) in need of improvement?

It started with a blog post by Julien Frisch over at:

http://julienfrisch.blogspot.com

Julien’s article was called Decision on the legal nature of the electronic version of the Official Journal of the European Union, and it referred to an official document discussing technical options.

He went on to invite a comment from me. While my technical ‘nous’ score hovers around zilch, it led me to jot down a few practical thoughts about the Official Journal and the Eur-Lex portal from the viewpoint of a daily user and an EU citizen.

The practical message is: Improvements are needed and there are examples that it can be done.

Here is the comment on Julien’s blog:



Julien,

Thank you for your invitation to comment, although I feel more like a car driver or even passenger than an auto mechanic or assembler of cars. In other words, my experience of the Official Journal is that of a daily user, who tries to think about the needs of other EU citizens, not a technical expert.

My layman’s guess would be that in the long run we are either going to have an authentic digital Official Journal, with paper copies stored away as a back-up, which would mean that the signatures would be electronic, or the symbolic importance of signing is seen as great enough to attach the signatures to paper, but the digital OJ would be as official.

For a practitioner, the availability of the OJ (and its different language versions) on the web is crucial. Real time delivery, instead of snail mail is one evident advantage.

I already mentioned the language versions. Occasionally I use a number of them for comparison, but it would lead to storage problems and to expense to have to subscribe to several versions.

One of the problems facing historians, political scientists and lawyers is the lack of certain key pieces of legislation in currently used formats, like pdf. I hope that the EU would make available at least all the treaties since 1951 and a number of older crucial documents (like the White Book leading to the Single European Act and the intergovernmental conferences) in an accessible format and somewhere easy to find.

Even if the paper you referred to was quite technical, there were some heartening words about improved search facilities.

It is often hard to know if a certain feature is lacking or if I just lack the technical ‘nous’ to find desired items, but in my experience the Official Journal functions well if you already have the exact reference or a link leading to the exact act.

If not, the searches sometimes turn out to be laborious.

Consolidated versions of legislative acts are unofficial, but for users with practical aims legislation in force is a great help. I have found national legal portals in Sweden and Finland much easier to use in this respect, and the acts much easier to find than when I search on Eur-Lex.

These portals usually offer you options to go for the original act (or amending act), the legislation in force (continuously updated consolidated versions), the preparatory works (governemtn bills) and information about the legislative process including links to parliamentary committee documents etc., as well as secondary legislation like regulations.

All this is available with a few clicks, without time-consuming searches.

Evidently something needs to be done and could be done at EU level.

The EU could definitively learn from some of the member states, because accessible legislation for free is, in my humble opinion, a fundamental democratic right.

It is easy to see the multitude of European languages, even the 23 official EU languages, as a drain on resources. But my view is that this diversity is a European reality, and our common legislation has to be accessible to EU citizens in their own languages.