Tuesday, 15 June 2010

European Council 17 June 2010: Impetus needed on governance

The previous blog entry, European Council 17 June 2010: Good governance?, wondered how good governance is within the grasp of municipal boards and councils, but seems to be unattainable for the European Union, and whether (European) Council’s execrable standards are a necessity, or if it would be possible to do more to enable informed debate and democratic participation.

How the European Council functions

The simple and transparent formula for public information is to publish each proposal with reasons and underlying documents. With issues out in the open and clearly identified, advance public debate, informed or uninformed, is made possible.

The European Council is an official institution, which makes a limited number of concrete decisions. Generally, it exercises power by providing “impetus” for the development of the European Union and defining general political directions and priorities of the EU. Most concrete decisions are taken by the Council (solely or as a co-legislator).

The European Council’s task of supreme guidance is traditionally exercised through conclusions, more or less clearly expressed utterances on major themes.

The often bland and bureaucratic statements from the European Council tend to obscure the fact that they are based on concrete proposals and detailed debates. In practice, the issues are decided in the European Council, at the latest, as the result of an opaque process.

Even if the concrete decision is taken later by the Council, the remaining formal decision is often just that – a formality.

This means that major parts of the process – input, gestation and real decision, output, formal decision – remains opaque.

Are improvements possible?

The current practices have not been designed with the interests of citizens, transparency, good governance or democratic participation in mind. When we study how these things work, it would probably be more correct to assume the opposite.

Is all for the best in the best of all possible worlds?

In my view, clear and detailed proposals leading to identifiable “decisions” are possible, if the European Council wants to raise its standards of governance and information, including the opportunities for informed advance debate. It is a question of political (good) will.

Only the European Council can reform itself, so “impetus”, directions and priorities are needed from the top, president Herman Van Rompuy.

Ralf Grahn