President. – The next item is the joint debate on better legislation with three reports:
– the report by Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the twenty-seventh annual report on monitoring the application of European Union law (2009) (2011/2027(INI)) (A7-0249/2011),
– the report by Sajjad Karim, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on better legislation, subsidiarity and proportionality and smart regulation (2011/2029(INI)) (A7-0251/2011), and
– the report by Judith Sargentini, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on public access to documents (Rule 104(7)) for the years 2009-2010 (2010/2294(INI)) (A7-0245/2011).
Eva Lichtenberger, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, behind the rather clumsy title lies an issue of huge importance both for the institutions of the European Union and for the citizens of Europe. My report focuses on how European law is implemented and applied in the Member States. This is the European legislation that we in this House spend a huge amount of time, resources and commitment on drawing up and adopting. If this legislation is ultimately not taken seriously in the Member States, the work that we do is a waste of time. A Parliament which does not take itself seriously and does not check whether the rules that it has helped to enact are being implemented would be in an absurd situation.
The Treaties provide a proven method of doing this in the form of the Commission, which is the guardian of the Treaties, and which is supposed to monitor the process of applying and implementing European law, including initiating proceedings for failure to fulfil an obligation when no agreement can be reached with the Member State in question. This concerns, for example, questions such as the recognition of professional qualifications, which can be very important for the future of individual citizens, or environmental issues and matters relating to the ownership of land and property. These are all things which affect the citizens of Europe directly.
The Commission generally acts on the basis of a complaint submitted by a complainant. These citizens who make complaints are, ultimately, and this is very important to me, our early-warning system, which indicates to us that things are going wrong with the application of European legislation in the Member States and which should allow us to take corrective action. For this reason, the complainants play a central role in the entire process. Citizens must have a genuine opportunity to raise complaints and to obtain information about the response made to these complaints and whether there will be consequences and, if not, why not. We are required to do this under our obligation to ensure transparency, under the terms of the Treaties and on the basis of our respect for the citizens of Europe.
For example, if we had responded rapidly, consistently and strongly to the issue of waste disposal in Campania, we would have been able, in my opinion, to avoid some of the consequences of the situation there in recent years.
My report also calls into question the activities of the so-called EU Pilot project, where the Commission unfortunately does not always adequately fulfil its obligation to provide information to complainants in the case of a complaint and prefers to negotiate with the Member States behind the scenes. This leaves the citizens who make the complaints out in the cold without any information. That is unacceptable. For this reason, we have included a proposal in my report which allows for at least a partial codification of this process, with fixed deadlines and obligations to provide information. This is clearly in line with the provisions of the Treaties. It does not restrict the Commission in any way, but instead gives it support.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that, in times of increasing euroscepticism, responding to complaints made by citizens and a transparent process for handling these complaints are more important than ever. I believe that we need to take this into consideration, with all the consequences that it involves.
Sajjad Karim, rapporteur. – Mr President, thank you Commissioner and also the Presidency. I have tried – along with my colleagues – to maintain a constructive approach throughout when compiling my report. At the same time, I make no apologies for self-examination on behalf of this House with a verdict of ‘room for improvement’. May I thank my shadows for their equally constructive approach.
There are two questions which run throughout the theme of the report I have produced: why do we need to pursue the smart regulation agenda? And why now? The current economic circumstances are dramatically affecting our businesses and as I speak with them, I find that alongside all the traditional difficulties and challenges that they have had, they face specific and particular ones today such as raising capital in the current financial situation and recruiting a talented workforce from within the EU.
We as policy makers must do our very best to support these engines of the European economy, yet lamentably, our current regulatory framework continues to stifle business and entrepreneurs seeking to create jobs and growth in Europe. Setting up business in Europe is actually getting too costly and time consuming. Why should it cost four times as much to set up a business in Europe as compared to the US, Brazil or indeed India? In times of highly mobile capital, fast-pace innovation and ever quickening production cycles, the economic cost of holding up business with such bureaucracy is unsustainable.
Our maze of regulation directly affects our citizens, a considerable number of whom have lost their jobs during the financial crisis and are now seeking new opportunities for work, and it is hugely important that new businesses are supported and are able to create new employment. More broadly, the flaws of our current legislative approach only raise doubts in the minds of our citizens. As soon as you leave the bubble of Brussels, most ordinary Europeans find it very difficult to understand what the EU is, and when they see the effects of some of what originates here, they ask: whose side are you on?
With such immediate problems, focus undeniably turns to the short and medium-term; yet even greater challenges await Europe in the future. Domestically, we face generation-defining problems in the energy sector and managing the environment together with finding a successful growth model for the 21st century. Many of the issues affect the very fabric that makes up our society, and we must not divide into extremism or disillusionment but come together to find the solutions. These difficult challenges must be met with the best policy responses built up through evidence and consultation so as to ensure that the public can understand and support the solutions which governments and the European Union find.
Our attention must not only be focused on ourselves here in Europe – though the rising competitiveness of our neighbours throughout the world makes it essential. We do all we can to support innovation and growth in our economies. With India and China literally breathing down our necks, it is essential that the EU and the Member States take action to create a framework fostering economic competitiveness and promoting growth if we are going to be able to meet this long-term challenge.
Europe was once the leader in developing ideas and exporting its success across the world. We must remain open for business. We must create a new vision of Europe – one which is seen as a most attractive place to come and work and a place of opportunities, not one of difficulties and complications. I am no advocate of the pull-up, the drawbridge Europe – much to the contrary. Europe must remain open for business. This is why the closing approach to immigration in some of our Member States concerns me. Having spent much time steering the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) through this House, I despair at the obstacles being put in place in some of our Member States. The loss is clearly ours.
The approach that we need to adopt is one which needs to be on a joint-approach basis between the Commission, Parliament and Council. I hope you will find much of what is in my report acceptable.
Judith Sargentini, rapporteur. – (NL) Mr President, the credit for this report is due, of course, not to me but to Ms Hautala, my former colleague, who is now a member of the Finnish Government. In Ms Hautala, the Finnish Government has obtained a very good minister, but this House has also lost a champion of transparency. It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to take over the baton from her. The Hautala report – now the Sargentini report – was approved by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs back in June.
It gained that approval with an overwhelming majority based on a shared awareness that the transparency of European decision making still leaves a great deal to be desired. Too often, the secrecy reflex still prevails, whereas, in fact, transparency must be the presumption. Too often, the citizens must themselves ask to see documents that could have been put online long ago. Too often, people still have to mindlessly trawl through European websites, whereas all the documents that shed light on decision making in a particular area could equally be put together in a clear way. You and I know what that means for us, too. Too often, the Court of Justice and the European Ombudsman have to take Europe’s institutions to task. All of this is despite the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon commits us, more than ever, to the most transparent decision making possible.
Access to documents and good governance are fundamental rights to which, since the advent of the Treaty of Lisbon, the institutions, bodies and agencies of the European Union have actually been subject. It thus does not help or, to put it a better way, it is disastrous for European credibility, if the Council nevertheless keeps documents about its part of the legislative process secret. Then we have the fact that there is, curiously, still a Commission proposal on the table concerning the restriction of the definition of ‘documents’ which would make it easier for internal documents to be swept under the carpet. This secrecy impulse runs counter to the Treaty of Lisbon. This resolution thus calls on the Commission to bring forward a new proposal to revise the regulation regarding public access to documents, a proposal that is ‘Lisbon-proof’. I would like to hear a response to this from the Commissioner.
However, this House should not hold its breath awaiting serious transparency from the other institutions. We can get to work on this ourselves, as the Hautala/Sargentini resolution also says. At this point in time, the trialogues and conciliation procedures are the most opaque part of the legislative procedure, yet these negotiations are more often than not crucial to the end result obtained. Parliament must thus publish the associated documents in future. That is essential for the press, for civil society and for stakeholders amongst the general public. They have the right to be able to keep close tabs on the legislative process. For the same reason, Parliament’s committees must hold at least one orientation vote before they turn to a trialogue with the Council and the Commission. That should be laid down as mandatory in our Rules of Procedure.
Finally, the debt crisis is putting confidence in the European Union under severe pressure. I advise the institutions and the Member States not to break any more promises. We need to realise the promise of maximum transparency, and time is pressing.
Maciej Szpunar, President-in-Office of the Council. – (PL) Mr President, honourable Members, I very much welcome Parliament’s proposal to hold a debate on the subject of better law making. This subject is a matter of interest to both colegislators alike – to the Council as well as to Parliament. I would also like to express my esteem for the authors of each of the reports which have provided the basis for today’s debate. A particular source of encouragement is the fact that the House attaches such great importance to the question of making better legislation, both at European and at national level.
I would like, firstly, to say a few words about the report drafted by Ms Lichtenberger on the annual report on monitoring the application of European Union law. A few words, because this monitoring is primarily the domain of the Commission, not the Council. The Council certainly shares many of the reservations expressed in the report, and these reservations do not concern exclusively the fact that infringements of European law occur too often, just as we are too often faced with the late transposition of laws. It should also be remembered that in fact, the Commission should first of all carry out monitoring and, if need be, require clarifications from the Member States. I am sure that Mr Šefčovič will want to develop this subject in his speech.
In his report on better legislation, subsidiarity and proportionality, and smart regulation, Mr Karim rightly observes that by means of its Communication on Smart Regulation in the European Union, the Commission is trying to ensure that these regulations play a more central role in European policy formulation. The Council fully shares the favourable opinion presented in this report on the subject of a new agenda for smart regulation.
In its conclusions of 30 May 2011, the Council stressed the importance of the question of stimulating competitiveness and growth. This is an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy. We are convinced that by placing emphasis on the entire legislative process, it will be possible to have a more comprehensive approach to better law making. It will also be possible for the work of legislators to be more closely related to the needs of society.
Naturally, as colegislators, we are working towards the same objectives. The challenges we face are often the same. The laws we make must improve the life of our citizens, contributing to their prosperity and supporting economic growth. In our work, we often have to try to find a balance between different obligations which are frequently difficult to reconcile. This means that legislation at European level, perhaps even more often than legislation at national level, is the result of compromise, and a compromise does not always offer a guarantee that what it produces will meet what is required of it in terms of clarity and brevity. If we are to maintain the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, if we are to comply with the principle of ‘think small first’, if we want our work to bring about a reduction in administrative burdens and we also want it to result in clearer legislation, we have to demonstrate a high degree of self-discipline. The critical moment comes when Members of the House draft amendments in committee and ministers present the views and positions of their countries in the Council. It is precisely at this moment – during work in committee and at meetings of the Council – that we should particularly remember our objectives in relation to better law making.
Mr President, honourable Members, I would also like to say a few words about the report drafted by Ms Sargentini, who has completed the work begun by Ms Hautala. This report is about public access to documents and transparency. Both reports contain many interesting suggestions. This matter is a crucial one. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, access to documents became a fundamental right of every citizen of the Union, and also of every natural or legal person residing in a Member State.
A variety of criticisms are often made of the Council, so what is the situation with the Council’s documents? Well, at the end of 2010, the public register of the Council’s documents contained over 1.5 million items. Over 75% of those documents could have been made publicly available. In comparison to 2009, this means an increase of around 12% in the number of documents made directly available by the register. In terms of requests for public access, the General Secretariat of the Council gave consideration to over 9 000 documents in 2010. In the case of over 70% of these, a decision was made to grant access to the whole of the document. Work is currently under way on two Commission proposals, made in 2008 and 2011 respectively, for revision of Regulation No 1049/2001. We are closely following the work being done in Parliament on these two proposals, so that we will be able to respond when Parliament adopts its position. At the present moment, we are conducting preliminary discussions on the 2011 proposal. We hope that soon we will be able to agree a general approach, which will facilitate dialogue with Parliament. Our main objective is constructive cooperation with Parliament, so that we are able to achieve our aim of adopting an amended regulation. This is in the interest of the whole of society and is for the common good.
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I will do my best to react as quickly as possible to the three reports, which have been presented to the plenary, and also to Mr Szpunar’s remarks on behalf of the Polish Presidency.
First, I would like to state my clear appreciation of the three reports that we are debating today. It is important that the institutions work together on these topics, which are so important if we want to make EU legislative and political action more transparent, more accessible and more useful for citizens.
As for better legislation, subsidiarity and proportionality, and smart regulation, I am very happy to learn that Mr Karim’s report supports our agenda and underlines the shared responsibility of the EU institutions in this area. Smart regulation is a key priority for the Commission and we have an ambitious smart regulation agenda with clearly defined priorities. The Commission remains committed to further improving the quality of its initiatives and to evaluating existing legislation, as well as continuing to reduce administrative burdens and simplifying wherever possible.
For example, the Commission is on track to exceed its target of 25% of administrative burden reductions by 2012. We now need to ensure that this translates into concrete benefits for businesses through the adoption of relevant legislation by the Council and Parliament and by effective implementation in the Member States. The delivery of this target by 2012 must be our common priority within a broader approach to legislation to make it more efficient and effective. To this end, we also make thorough use of impact assessments in the Commission.
Another key tool in this new approach will be the systematic ex-post evaluation of the legislation. The Commission has therefore merged its efforts to reduce administrative burdens with those to simplify and to evaluate legislation.
Finally, the Commission welcomes an open discussion on the responsibility of the three institutions in delivering smart regulation. We need to ensure that all three institutions show a commitment to making real progress. They should start by making the best use of existing instruments. Therefore, the Commission calls for the full implementation of the current interinstitutional agreement on better law making.
Turning now to the application of EU law, I would first like to thank Members for the preparatory work on our annual report on the monitoring of the application of EU law. As the current interinstitutional talks on correlation tables demonstrate, the Commission and Parliament attach great importance to the current application of EU law. I appreciate the opportunity to have an exchange of views on a regular basis on this subject.
I would also like to use this opportunity to thank the Polish Presidency and Mr Szpunar for his personal involvement and commitment to resolving the issue we are discussing now concerning correlation tables and explanatory information from the Member States to the Commission so that we can do our work better in the future.
With regard to the issues raised in Ms Lichtenberger’s report, I would like to highlight the following points. In 2007, we announced that we would improve and intensify our collaboration with the Member States. Therefore, in 2008, we introduced the EU Pilot project and I am happy to say that nearly all Member States are participating. This instrument is an early-warning and problem-solving tool vis-à-vis Member States in many cases. It does not replace the infringement procedure but helps to resolve a lot of cases. Those that cannot be resolved are, of course, put into the infringement procedure. The EU Pilot gives full and quick effect to Union law for the benefit of citizens and businesses.
As I am sure we will discuss later today, petitions to Parliament are key in identifying citizens’ concerns. The annual report analyses in detail the nature of petitions and gives concrete examples where they have also triggered infringement procedures. In order to improve the follow-up to complaints, we have set up an effective complaint registration system. I am confident that the system meets the concerns previously spelled out by Parliament and the Ombudsman. It allows the rapid treatment of incoming complaints and gives swift information to the complainants about any major step decided by the Commission.
The Lisbon Treaty has strengthened the role of the Commission with regard to the late transposition of directives by the Member States. In 2010, the Commission explained publicly the concrete ways in which it will apply these new powers. This was communicated to the other institutions as well. We are confident that this contributes to putting further pressure on Member States to improve their performance in this field.
Last but not least, Ms Sargentini’s report clearly shows the importance of public access to documents as a central element of the transparency of the work of the institutions. The report contains useful suggestions which the Commission will duly take into consideration. In particular, the Commission agrees that the information should be made available to the public in a proactive manner whenever possible. The Commission has already made significant efforts in this respect. For example, information and documents on comitology committees and on expert groups are available through dedicated websites. The Commission also provides information on beneficiaries of EU funds, both under central and shared management, and for the latter, information on beneficiaries of funds is accessible through a portal providing links with national websites.
Of course, the Commission shares Parliament’s wish to improve the interoperability of the public registers, and we still have a lot of work to do on this, but the Commission takes note of the rapporteur’s comments concerning the ongoing legislative procedure on a recast of the access to documents regulation.
However, this debate cannot replace the ongoing legislative process. In this regard, let me underline that our proposal for a recast does not reduce the level of transparency. Our estimation is that the same number of requests for access would be granted. Our proposal merely aims at clarifying a number of provisions and at facilitating the application of the regulation. The Commission agrees with the rapporteur that some changes to the regulation are made necessary by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, most importantly, the extension of the citizen’s right to access the documents of all EU institutions and bodies. This would include, for example, the European Council and the EAS.
For this reason, the Commission decided last March to submit a second proposal to align the existing regulation to the Treaty. Our objective with the second proposal is to give citizens the rights the Treaty has created for them, and to do so as quickly as possible without waiting for the conclusion of the discussions on the wider recast proposal. The Commission therefore invites Parliament and the Council to adopt quickly the proposal aligning the regulations to the Treaty and, in parallel, we will continue our discussions on the wider recast proposal. We look forward to relaunching the legislative process.
In this context, debate should focus on the core issues, such as the definition of the ‘space to think’ within the institutions and the balance between the protection of personal data and the right of access to documents, which have been rightly highlighted by the rapporteur. Other issues such as classification rules or historical archives should not be addressed in this context, but rather in specific fora.
To conclude, I would like to repeat the Commission’s appreciation of these three reports, which contain very useful observations and suggestions. I now look forward to deepening this debate with you and I thank you in advance for your remarks.
Paulo Rangel, deputising for the rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. – (PT) Mr President, representatives of the Council, Mr Szpunar, Commissioner Šefčovič, first of all, I should like to establish that I shall be speaking here in a dual capacity. Firstly, I am deputising for the rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Mr Messerschmidt, who is absent because the elections are under way in Denmark at the moment and I am, therefore, representing him as a member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. However, I am also here as a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs, and as shadow rapporteur for this report in the Committee on Legal Affairs.
The first point I should like to make is that, in the crisis in which we find ourselves, the economic and financial crisis, smart regulation and better legislation is a central issue. There is no doubt that improving the level of legislation and regulation is also an absolutely essential part of the so-called ‘structural reforms’ that can trigger the financial and economic recovery of the European area.
It is clear that a Europe that wants, on the one hand, to be dynamic and competitive, must have regulation that is simple and accessible to companies, and, of course, to citizens, and must be devoted to their needs. The fact is that today, it is therefore essential, first of all, that the first programme of reducing administrative burdens is passed; that every effort be made to promote the consultation of market operators, and of associations representing individuals and companies; and that there be an impact assessment of the legislation itself – this is also extremely important in order for the decision-making process to be essentially founded on, let us say, the very opinions of the people the legislation is intended for, and so that it can be carried out without unnecessary administrative burdens and with lower economic and financial costs.
It is important to say that, for the Committee on Constitutional Affairs in particular, the concept of the principle of proportionality and subsidiarity is important; this concept that European intervention should be appropriate and not complicate the legal and regulatory systems further. That is why, in our opinion, we pay particular attention to the strengthened role that the national parliaments now have, precisely because of the principle of proportionality and the principle of subsidiarity.
It is now therefore essential to involve the national parliaments in both smart regulation and better legislation, so that both legislation and regulation will be more streamlined, smarter and more effective, at both European and national level. It is therefore a good time for us to put into practice what we discuss every day, which is a Europe that is more competitive and more streamlined through smarter regulation.
Cristian Silviu Buşoi, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – Mr President, a few months ago, this House endorsed a set of key measures to relaunch the single market, and I strongly believe that the ambitious goals we have set will be impossible to achieve without ensuring proper application of EU law.
I would like to congratulate Ms Lichtenberger on the good work that she has done. The Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection was happy to see that some progress has been made in some areas, such as late transposition of directives or the improvement in the functioning of Solvit. However, a lot more remains to be done to ensure that businesses and citizens fully benefit from the single market.
Member States should incentivise their responsible government departments to ensure timely transposition. Correlation tables are another useful tool that would contribute to a better transposition process, and I really hope that Member States will show their commitment to proper implementation by accepting to draw up such tables. Infringement procedures need to be shorter and more transparent so that citizens remain fully informed about the follow-up to their requests, and we should continue to support and develop problem-solving tools like Solvit and EU Pilot.
Cornelis de Jong, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – (NL) Mr President, I will begin with the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, for whom I am the rapporteur, and then move on to the Sargentini report, for which I am the shadow rapporteur.
The opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection relates to the Karim report. In Rotterdam, where I live, I am in regular contact with a number of retailers’ associations. They act as a sounding board for me. Every time I come across legislative proposals that might have consequences for the self-employed, I talk to them. Thus, for example, I want to find out from them if the proposals currently under discussion in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs are feasible. The proposals concern substances that can be sold in shops but that could also be used for terrorist purposes. I ask questions such as ‘How can a retailer recognise these substances?’ and ‘How can they check the validity of permits that clients may soon require in order to be able to purchase these substances?’ It is an example of a kind of informal SME test.
Of course, the Commission does carry out formal SME tests in the form of impact assessments, but it gives SMEs far too little influence in the preceding phase. This is the case in the expert groups, for example, as the costs that the self-employed incur to participate are not compensated for. The questionnaires, too, are still a concern, as the Commission is making them too complicated, while it is unclear to the self-employed what exactly happens to their contributions.
To the rapporteur, Mr Karim, I offer my sincere thanks for taking up the proposal that we brought forward in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, namely, the adoption of a mandatory SME test for this House once legislative proposals have been adopted in Parliament’s committees, and before the vote in plenary. I hope that, after this excellent report is adopted, the Bureau quickly picks up the proposal and that we can put this procedure into place.
I will turn now to the Sargentini report on access to documents. I receive complaints on a daily basis about how difficult it is to find reliable information about the goings-on in Brussels. The search functions on the European institutions’ websites never give you the answer to your question and, in any case, the websites are organised based on the structure of the institutions, not based on the questions that resonate with the public.
Furthermore, it is scarcely believable that, in 2011, the Commission is more reticent in the provision of information in connection with its proposals than it was in 2001. I am, furthermore, really angry with the Commissioner that, time and again, the Commission refuses to answer our questions about the composition and activities of the expert groups. Even a debate in plenary last time where we asked oral questions, and which Mr Šefčovič was not able to attend in person and so sent Mr Karas to deputise, did not give rise to clarity. We did not get an answer to a single question. This blemishes our democracy directly.
The Council, too, refuses to allow citizens a look into the decision-making process. While, as a result of the euro crisis, everyone is talking about Europe at the moment, the citizens are getting no information about how things are really being done during the negotiations about the euro. As Ms Sargentini said already, it is only through the occasional posting on Twitter that I get to read about the negotiations and trialogues. Furthermore, these remain a kind of black box.
To my mind, the European Parliament should refuse to participate in back-room politics and should make the documents public. Negotiations can best take place in the open, or else there should at the very least be a requirement to provide an update on the state of play after each round of negotiations. All of these elements are also taken up in the Sargentini report, and I hope that that, too, will be adopted with consensus.
Margrete Auken, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Petitions. – (DA) Mr President, first of all, I would like to thank my colleagues in the Committee on Petitions for their excellent cooperation and support, enabling us to contribute to Ms Lichtenberger’s report, which concerns a matter that we feel very strongly about.
The citizens and their active participation are, of course, important prerequisites for compliance with legislation. Without these it is impossible, in fact, and I would like to follow up on a very important point, the responsibility for which lies with us and for which I have, fortunately, attained support from the majority, and that is the infringement procedures. It is unreasonable for citizens not to be able to see what happens when responses come from the Commission and when the Member States then respond in turn. A prerequisite for our ability to meet the requirements of the Aarhus Convention, as well as to keep the promises made in the Treaty is, of course, that we have proper, transparent public access to documents. Ms Sargentini’s report also relates to improving this situation.
Finally, I would like to mention that we are pleased – I am pleased that I have obtained majority support in this regard – once again to hear what Ms Lichtenberger said about the importance of having clear and proper procedures for how these reports are debated and how we ensure that we achieve transparency. I would refer to Article 298 of the Treaty and, of course, to the Aarhus Convention.
Sebastian Valentin Bodu, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (RO) Mr President, this report focuses on the fundamental role of the Commission as that of ‘Guardian of the Treaties’. It highlights that, in spite of a fall in the number of infringement cases opened by the Commission, the Committee on Petitions settled around 2 900 complaints and infringement cases by the end of 2009, and that Member States were still behind schedule with their transposition of directives in more than half of cases.
The Commission should bring greater transparency to ongoing procedures involving infringement of Union legislation and inform EU citizens as soon as possible, and in an appropriate manner, of the action taken at their request. The step taken by the rapporteur in calling on the Commission to propose a procedural law in the form of a regulation under the new legal basis of Article 298 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is appropriate and I endorse it.
It is deplorable that too many procedures involving infringement of Union legislation need a long time to be closed or brought before the Court of Justice. This is why Member States and the Commission should step up their efforts to remedy the causes of legislative infringements. I would welcome the Commission prioritising infringements of Union legislation in different sectors.
We notice that there is still a high number of cases involving infringement of Union legislation due to late transposition of directives. The timely transposition of EU directives is crucial to the smooth functioning of the single market for the benefit of consumers and businesses in the Union. For these reasons, I welcome the request made by the Commission and the rapporteur to continue to promote best practices in terms of transposing single market legislation.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PL) Mr President, as I was the rapporteur for last year’s report on better legislation and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, I paid particular attention to the question of transparency and whether legislation which is made can be understood by the citizens, as well as to ex post evaluation or meticulous follow-up of what happens to EU law after it is passed.
I therefore support the proposals presented in the report concerning the need to study the impact of legislation, correct deviations and replicate successful initiatives, the need to simplify EU legislation, and the need to avoid drawing up acts unless they are specifically needed.
However, I am still opposed to the principle proposed by the rapporteur of ‘one-in, one-out’, which allows for new legislation only on condition that some earlier pieces of legislation are removed. In practice, this is simply not possible.
Reducing administrative burdens and simplifying law must not also lead to a reduction in the standards provided for in current legislation. I think it is necessary to intensify efforts and be more ambitious, if the target of reducing administrative burdens by 25% by 2012 is to be reached.
It is also worth remembering the regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative, which entered into force on 1 April 2011, creating the opportunity for ordinary citizens to participate in creating better legislation. All of these things have to be taken into account if we want to see true change and improvement in the area of formulating good and comprehensible legislation.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur and thank him for a very good piece of work.
Diana Wallis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I would like to start by congratulating all three rapporteurs. All the reports try to explain how we can improve our legislative process. Post-Lisbon, that is a duty that is incumbent upon all three of our institutions plus national parliaments. EU law – EU legislation – is our product and we all, together, have to get it right. The making of EU law must be done transparently and openly so that our citizens and businesses can easily participate in the process.
Let me say something about how I imagine the best legislative process. It would start with open consultation and participation possible for all. There would be impact assessment. We would then see a simple understandable citizens’ summary so that everybody can see what is proposed by the legislation. We would then have an amendment process that can be easily followed electronically through all our institutions in the same way, so that our citizens can participate. We would have transparency of the lobbying process, which we are beginning to obtain by our work on the joint register.
When we reach final agreement on legislation, we have to show exactly what that is. There has been talk of ‘legislative summaries’ but, more importantly, we will need correlation tables or the equivalent to show how the implementation process is working and to make sure that, when our businesses and citizens want to enforce, they are able to do so simply and easily.
That is my dream. I hope one day to see the reality.
Gerald Häfner, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I would like to give my very warm thanks to Ms Lichtenberger, Ms Hautala and Ms Sargentini. Time is short, so I will keep my comments on this subject brief. Information, access to information and transparency are the lifeblood of democracy. Without complete transparency and without access to this information, democracy cannot function. We have to constantly remind ourselves that these are not our concerns which are being discussed in the Commission, in the Council and also here in Parliament. The Council is not dealing with its own concerns, but with those of the citizens and it needs to behave accordingly, in other words, everything must be made public. The same thing applies to the other documents.
I would like to raise one particular point in relation to the so-called EU Pilot project. This acts rather like the wall in a squash game. The citizens who have not been able to obtain a satisfactory result within their own Member State turn to the Commission and the Commission hits the ball back into the court of the Member State. However, what is lacking is a clear follow-up of each case, which would enable specific decisions to be made by the Commission and also sanctions to be imposed. What we need is a set of comprehensive rules that make a real impact and that ultimately also have legal consequences.
Edvard Kožušník, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (CS) Mr President, I would like to thank all of the rapporteurs and, in particular, my colleague, Sajjad Karim, for an excellent report and for the work done. I share the grave concerns over the fact that the Commission has failed in its resolve to reduce the administrative burden by a planned 25% by 2012.
I am therefore placing very high hopes on the Edmund Stoiber group, the mandate of which has been extended to the end of 2012. In November this year, the group should publish a fundamental report on best practices and the simplest way to implement European law in the Member States. The report should accelerate the process of cutting down on bureaucracy, so that we can achieve the original aim of reducing the administrative burden.
The main obstacle to reducing bureaucracy and the administrative burden is no longer the Commission itself, but the European Parliament and the Member States, who lack qualified, systematic support for the implementation of European law. In my opinion, the Commission finds the European Parliament lacking as a strong partner in the fight against bureaucracy. We should therefore consider setting up a European Parliament committee on eliminating the bureaucratic burden.
Marta Andreasen, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, the Conservative Party, like the Labour Party before them, continues to pass large amounts of EU legislation in the UK. While their MEPs in Europe tell the public they want to end needless EU laws, their government continues to heap more of them on British businesses.
The fundamental weakness of EU regulation is the assumption that one size fits all. This is not the case. Each Member State has its own social and economic realities. Repeated attempts at harmonisation are making the situation worse, not better.
The bottom line is this. Do these reports reduce red tape? No, of course not. There is no such thing as better EU regulation; only more EU red tape. These reports are doing a disservice to small and medium-sized businesses up and down Britain by pretending that any reform of the EU legislative procedure will take away the burden imposed by the implementation of EU regulation.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, I would prefer for there to be no European legislation at all. Let there be no doubt about that.
However, a procedural problem is that individual legislators sometimes have difficulty in taking rational, informed decisions. I believe that this difficulty is knowingly, if not deliberately, created and perpetuated. Amendments are changed or regrouped at the last possible moment by agreement among the party leaders. Individual members of the large party groups are oblivious to these changes and do not need to know of them. They are simply told by their party leaders how to vote.
We non-attached Members do not enjoy that doubtful privilege, and nor does any large-party MEP of independent mind. We, with our assistants, must take all of our decisions ourselves. It is difficult enough to have the amendments 24 hours before the vote. However, we frequently receive regrouped amendments on the day of the vote. What we need is an improvement in the procedure of passing legislation. That would be a necessary, though not of course a sufficient, condition for better legislation to emerge.
Renate Sommer (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, I would like to say to the previous speaker that the way in which he works is very interesting! The German constitution prevents us from being exposed to outside influence. No one can tell us how we should vote. However, the situation in other Member States seems to be different. Perhaps the problem concerns transparency, which can always be improved.
We are very much concerned here with improving transparency in the European Union and, in particular, with regard to the European institutions, so that the citizens can gain a better understanding of Europe and are better able to comprehend what goes on here and perhaps even to express their opinions at the right stage of the legislative process.
We are doing an excellent job of dealing with this, which is just the right sort of transparency. How far do we need to go? Do we have to make public everything that is said here and take minutes on every occasion? I believe that it would then no longer be possible to implement any policies. Of course, the decisions and the debates must be publicised, but all of us who have been involved in politics for many years are aware that we also have sensitive discussions which we cannot necessarily disclose. One example is the trialogue negotiations, which concern specialist legislation. If we were to make public the content of the trialogue negotiations, this could, under certain circumstances, lead to the negotiations being blocked, because they would be exposed to external influences in the form of lobbying, for example. This could be an extremely risky business.
What is the right thing to do? What is a document? Do we have to publish all our documents or is this just about information? Does it only concern the legislative process or does it also relate to information from procedures which take place in the administrative bodies of the institutions in the European Union? This is what we are currently discussing.
Despite all the initial difficulties, we have managed to reach a good compromise and to come to an agreement on Ms Hautala’s report, which Ms Sargentini has been kind enough to take over. This makes me very hopeful that we will also be successful in future in the case of Mr Cashman’s forthcoming report and that we will be able to agree and to find the right definitions.
What is information? What is a document? What are the things which it is important that we should publicise? We all know, if we are honest with one another, that inundating the public with information has exactly the opposite result to transparency, in other words, people no longer understand anything, because they can no longer filter out the essential details.
Against this background, I would like to thank everyone involved for making it possible to reach a good compromise. I hope that we can continue working in this way in this area.
Evelyn Regner (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, Mr Szpunar, Commissioner Šefčovič, the process of drawing up EU legislation is far from simple. On the contrary, it is very difficult for ordinary citizens to understand the circuitous routes by which European law is drafted, implemented and complied with. I regard smart regulation or intelligent legislation as the equivalent of a match won by a good football team. The interaction between the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council must be harmonious, quick and well-organised. It must also be cost-effective and, above all, democratic. This means that the national parliaments, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the Committee of the Regions, civil society and, I would like to emphasise this point, the two sides of industry must be included to an adequate extent.
This is one shortcoming in Mr Karim’s otherwise excellent report. It does not refer to the two sides of industry. Social dialogue is enshrined in primary EU legislation. The report simply refers to the fact that all relevant stakeholders must be consulted. This does not take sufficient account of the special nature of trade unions and also of employers’ organisations. The two sides of industry can ultimately also be legislators at an EU level, for example, by means of social partners’ agreements.
Finally, I would like to look at a second aspect of this. Smart regulation must not be used to water down the EU’s minimum standards, in particular, with regard to employee protection, so that existing standards can be quickly lowered almost in passing.
Cecilia Wikström (ALDE). – (SV) Mr President, I would like to say that today’s debate is perhaps one of the most important debates of this part-session. The questions are hardly new. How should we better meet citizens’ demands for well-considered legislation, based on sound studies and impact assessments, so that we actually solve their problems? This clearly has to be done by means of a legislative process that is open and transparent. There are many challenges involved, and we are a long way from our goal.
Instead of opening up our institutions and increasing our citizens’ access to documents, the Commission and large parts of the Council now seem to want to restrict access to what are really public documents. This is unheard of. We must never forget who it is that we represent. It is the citizens in our Member States. What right do bureaucrats and politicians have to keep secret what we quite probably should regard as the citizens’ own documents? After all, we are not the ones who own these documents; they are owned by the citizens.
I am also astounded by the strong opposition from representatives of the Council to the introduction of correlation tables. If we are now taking an extremely long time to agree on directives, it is perhaps not so strange for us to want a simple method of seeing how citizens implement these provisions in their Member States.
When it comes to better legislation, we have a great deal to do. Sometimes it seems as if we are experts at talking enthusiastically about the principle of simplifying regulations only then to make things more difficult for our citizens instead. Independent facts, impact assessments and increased opportunities for Members to request studies from the library, for example, could provide important contributions to this process.
I would like to remind you of the excellent report by Ms Niebler on precisely this subject of impact assessments before I conclude by thanking her and Ms Lichtenberger, Mr Karim and Ms Sargentini for their equally excellent work.
Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) Mr President, I would like to hear the Commission propose new rules on transparency. We are certainly in need of them. That is the best protection against corruption and all kinds of abuses of power. It must never be the case that we use the classification of a document as confidential in order to keep uncomfortable audit reports secret or to redefine documents in order to avoid transparency or, as in the case of the ACTA Agreement, to classify something as confidential because we are scared of a public debate.
Something that I would really like to be part of the public’s access to documents is for all documents to actually be registered. Good examples include first reading agreements that are reached behind closed doors and cases where we hardly have any rules regarding transparency and openness. Another example is the documents received from lobbyists. Lobbyists should always be required to send a copy to a public register, so that citizens can see who is influencing what legislation.
Classification as confidential must never be used to protect inhumane or stupid decisions. That would undermine citizens’ confidence in democracy. It should be used in well-considered, specific cases, but never as an instrument of this kind.
Franz Obermayr (NI). – (DE) Mr President, the principle of subsidiarity may be enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, but it remains a theory. I would like to give just a few examples of this. According to the flexibility clause in Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU can enact regulations without the agreement of the national parliaments, if this helps to achieve the goals of the Treaties. Hear, hear! The Treaty of Lisbon has introduced clauses based on the Kompetenz-Kompetenz principle, simplified procedures and more majority decisions in the Council in order to rush through certain matters. The so-called passerelle clause, Article 311, gives the EU the opportunity and the right to raise its own taxes.
What has happened to subsidiarity? We will only have better legislation when it is drawn up in the place where it belongs, in other words, in the institutions directly elected by the people, which are the European Parliament and, in particular, of course, the national parliaments.
Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE). – (PL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, when speaking of better legislation, we must first and foremost remember that it all starts here, in the EU institutions, and so also in the European Parliament. We can and, of course, should call Member States to account for delays or mistakes or for enacting complicated supplementary legislation when implementing particular directives, or for imposing more restrictive demands in national legislation than those which are, in fact, contained in EU legislation. First, however, we must ourselves give attention to those elements of the legislative process which we can improve ourselves, so that the legislation we make is better.
The smart regulation which Mr Karim talks about in his report is not just clear and well-written legislation, it is legislation which is passed on the basis of precise and independent impact assessments which have been consulted with all interested parties. An extremely graphic and oft-quoted example is the situation of small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the EU market. The importance of the work of these small firms for the development of the single market and the European economy cannot be overestimated. However, it is precisely these firms, these enterprises, which continue to experience a certain ignorance on the part of the legislator; they still face costs and administrative burdens which are too high and their situation is still too infrequently taken into account in the law-making process, although the Small Business Act does call for this.
We continually talk about the financial crisis troubling Europe. I think, however, that this is the last thing we should be doing at the moment, and that we should stop just talking about the need to improve the legal environment of small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-enterprises and put this legislation into effect. Anyone can make a mistake, but we should learn to draw the right lessons from our mistakes.
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). – (SK) Mr President, the fundamental right to access the documents of EU institutions, bodies and agencies is unquestioned. Transparency must be the cornerstone of any participatory democracy and should ideally add to representative democracy.
The Treaty on European Union enables citizens to participate in the decision-making process, and thus to exercise public scrutiny, thereby guaranteeing the legitimacy of the democratic political system. The Commission produced a proposal to update the regulation on public access to documents of Parliament, the Council and the Commission in 2008. The amendments proposed by the Commission do not, however, improve accessibility to institutional documents. The inappropriate definition of what falls under the concept of a ‘document’ limits the scope of accessible data and is thus contrary to the Treaty of Lisbon. I would therefore like to ask the Commission to revise its proposals, and I also firmly believe that it is possible to make progress with the legislative process. The public would thus be much better informed if parliamentary committees, prior to negotiating, adopted orientation votes and the Council published the negotiation position agreed within the framework of Coreper.
Sonia Alfano (ALDE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate Ms Hautala and Ms Sargentini on their excellent work. Through the Treaty of Lisbon and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, transparency has become a basic right of European citizens.
We are on the right track, but unfortunately, even in this day and age, there is great resistance when we talk about transparency. In my opinion, there is no middle way: anyone against full transparency obviously has something to hide and would prefer for decisions to be taken out of sight from citizens and the press.
The Commission refuses to accept the proposals to revise the regulation on access to documents, which were put forward by Parliament in the report by Mr Cashman and provide for greater transparency. The Council, meanwhile, systematically refuses to make the identities of Member States known during discussions and votes in their meetings. The legal services of the Commission, the Council and Parliament continue to use excuses to hide their legal opinions, despite the judgment of the European Court of Justice on the Turco case.
Even in Parliament, there is substantial resistance to guaranteeing access to information for citizens, particularly with regard to the activities of Members and the expenditure of this House and its Members.
The so-called Galvin report has finally been published, though unfortunately, the names are missing from it. I believe that transparency is one of democracy’s basic tools for combating abuses of power, waste and corruption, and for forging closer relationships between citizens and institutions.
In my view, the report by Ms Hautala and Ms Sargentini works along these same lines and hence it deserves the maximum support. As shadow rapporteur for the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, I shall be voting in favour of this report.
Oldřich Vlasák (ECR). – (CS) Mr President, leading economists are agreed that the main problems of the European market are, in particular, over-regulation and administrative, bureaucratic and legislative obstacles, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Instead of creating a friendly environment for business and supporting human activity, we are on the way to becoming world leaders in all-round regulation. This can be seen, for example, in the EU’s effort to regulate so-called cookies, by which, paradoxically, I do not mean biscuits, but information on Internet users stored in the temporary memory of a computer.
The question most often raised over what next to regulate in European politics, and what not, nonetheless fails to get to the heart of the problem, in my opinion. It is more important to consider why we should regulate and whether we should regulate at all. I therefore firmly believe that the European Commission should carry out an impact assessment in respect of every new legislative proposal, including what would happen if the regulation did not exist.
Michael Cashman (S&D). – Mr President, I am going to speak on the Hautala/Sargentini report.
The title is interesting. What is better regulation? It is legislation that is clear, precise and that is understood by all participants. Equally, it is legislation that anyone can influence and not just those who have special access and special knowledge. That is why I am pleased to say that the Hautala/Sargentini report is one that I can so easily pick up and replicate in the revision of the regulation on public access to documents.
It is much more balanced than the report on 2008. It is realistic. The main point is that transparency is a fundamental right. It is there within the Charter of Fundamental Rights and it is reinforced by the Treaty of Lisbon.
Since Lisbon, Regulation No 1049/2001 now applies to all the institutions, the bodies and the agencies set up by them, including the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, etc.
The Commission, I believe, has already produced two proposals on my revision. It should now produce a third, and not just maintain the two. It should produce a third based on the work that Parliament has already done.
Indeed, in our amendments of 2008, we ‘Lisbonised’ the revision of the regulation. So let us work together. We need common rules on classification; we need precise definitions, as Mrs Sommer said earlier, on, for instance, the space to think. If we are to protect the way the institutions function effectively, let us be clear on what the definition is. Let us be clear on the definition of a document. I have to say we do not – the Parliament in its entirety does not – accept the new concept of a document as proposed in the Commission’s previous recasting of Regulation No 1049/2001.
We do need common rules on classification of documents because, unless there are common rules, we will never have coherence on access.
My time is up. I am pleased to be a part of this debate, but let us prove the debate has worth by revising Regulation No 1049/2001 in compliance with the Hautala/Sargentini report.
Toine Manders (ALDE). – (NL) Mr President, I would like to thank my fellow Members for the sound proposals that are now before us, to which I give my wholehearted support. It goes without saying that the will to improve is always a good thing. We want to see a competitive Europe with better legislation and less red tape. As a politician, I am in favour of more transparency in how legislation is brought about, but as a lawyer and a European citizen, I believe that, in practice, effectiveness is perhaps more important. I therefore have three points concerning improvements.
The first concerns methodology. Take, for example, the way in which amendments are made. They are often based on national sentiments, but ultimately, they make the legislation complex and unreadable. Secondly, we still base 80% of our European legislation on directives, which ultimately lead to a patchwork situation at national level when it comes to transposition as a result of late transposition, or differences in transposition between different Member States. I advocate involving many experts and basing more legislation on regulations, which have direct effect and ensure more of a level playing field. As a final point, I would like to put forward the case that we should communicate our legislation to our citizens better, so that they know why we are working on it and so that they also take an interest in it.
Eduard Kukan (PPE). – Mr President, on the issue of public access to documents, the EU needs to be at the forefront of transparency and facilitate broad access to information for its citizens as this is their fundamental right. A possible lack of transparency, openness and access to documents would only lead to a situation where European society would lose confidence in the EU. I am not only referring to legislative documents, but also to documents concerning the allocation of public funds and audits concerning their spending.
I would like to call on the Commission and Council to work towards more transparent rules on freedom of information and review their rules concerning access to these documents. In the case of international agreements, I would especially like the Council to be more accommodating in granting Parliament access to classified documents connected to international agreements and also classified documents related to the EU evaluation processes.
Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (ALDE). – (ES) Mr President, I welcome the European institutions’ efforts to become more transparent and improve the quality of their legislation, as both these aspects are essential if greater accessibility to the public is to be achieved.
As regards subsidiarity, I should like to point out that the report makes reference to the role of national parliaments, but the procedure does not ensure that regions with legislative powers will be able to present their positions to the European institutions. This needs to be resolved, and lengthening the time of response may be instrumental in this respect.
I wish to voice my support for the decision to make the Committee on Petitions the body responsible for processing proposals channelled through the European Citizens’ Initiative.
I also believe it is essential to improve the Commission’s consultation procedures by adopting a proactive approach towards the stakeholders concerned and making extensive use of IT.
It is likewise essential to ensure that the structure and wording of all proposals can be easily understood.
Lastly, I should once again like to remind Member States of the need to establish correlation tables. All this will help to improve control, transparency and quality.
Raffaele Baldassarre (PPE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the rapporteurs for their excellent work, which offers some interesting points of departure for increasing the quality and effectiveness of European legislative activity.
I shall restrict myself to highlighting a number of aspects which I think are especially significant: it is absolutely essential to achieve a 25% cut in red tape, which can only be achieved through greater collaboration between the Commission and the Member States on measures designed to avoid diverging interpretations and the resulting ‘gold-plating’ of transposed legislation.
With the same objective in mind, we need to ensure high quality correlation tables between directives and national transposition measures and we need to carry out retrospective assessments of the legislation implemented on a more frequent basis. These are essential measures for ensuring that EU legislation achieves its primary goal, which is meeting the expectations of EU citizens, the businesses operating on the single market, and national and local governments.
Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). – (SK) Mr President, intelligible and clear legislation is more accessible, thus guaranteeing the more effective application in law of rights and responsibilities. The smart regulation initiative in the EU is therefore clearly a step in the right direction. In my experience, the basis for the better operation of European legislation remains effective communication on legislative proposals and on the legislative process directly with the recipients of the legislation, in other words, private citizens and businesses. For this reason, there should be a strengthening of regular and open communication with representatives of civil society, which, in my view, should inspire regular involvement in law making and public events in general on the regional and national level, as well as at much more remote levels, and at the European level. I see that I must end now, but I would just like to congratulate the Vice-President for the fact that, just as he announced in January that he would push hard for the smart regulation agenda, we now have it on the table, and I believe we will achieve good result.
IN THE CHAIR: ALEJO VIDAL-QUADRAS Vice-President
Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE). – (GA) Mr President, it appears that the targets the European Commission set out in 2007 in relation to reducing red tape by 25% by 2012 will not be achieved. Last year in this House, while the President of the Commission was giving a speech in relation to the state of the Union, Mr Barroso said that the Commission had published proposals in relation to saving EUR 38 billion for European companies through reductions in this red tape.
While the President may have made this commitment in good faith, he now has an obligation to follow this through and prove his commitment; and action is required. The effect of unnecessary and over-the-top legislation on all companies – but particularly SMEs, the backbone of business and employment in this Union – is immense. The bottom line is that the Commission must step up its game and must redouble its efforts in order to reduce the administrative burden on the SME sector in Ireland and Europe at present.
Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, one of the colleagues said that legislation is our product here as politicians, and it is, so some of the complaints we make about it to the Commission and others, we could make about ourselves.
We overcomplicate, we sometimes table amendments that are not clear, and the tragedy is that the words that are finally voted on and agreed between the Commission, the Council and Parliament are words that are then implemented in Member States in national legislation.
Sometimes that is done haphazardly and slowly, but usually these things come to pass. I think there is an onus on us to legislate better in this House. I know that journalists who come here find it very difficult to follow or indeed read the various reports that come before us. I know that I have been here seven years now, but in the first year in this Parliament, there was no induction into drafting or amending legislation, so we need to look at how we do business ourselves and make the process better.
Finally, on pilot projects, sometimes they are an excuse for Member States not to act. We need a little bit more attention paid to them.
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank all the honourable Members for a very good debate which once again demonstrates the importance we all attach to better regulation and implementation of the law for the proper functioning of the European Union. I would also like to thank all of you for your strong commitment to better regulation, transparency and a reduction of the administrative burden. I would like to assure you that all these goals are fully shared by the Commission.
In reaction to some of the interventions and comments, I would like to underline that smart regulation remains a key priority for the Commission. We have a very ambitious agenda with clearly defined priorities, many of which are reflected in the report. We are fully aware of the climate in which we are living, the serious crisis and the need for measures to make life for businesses, and especially SMEs, much easier. We know that in this way we can also contribute to a situation where we will return to a Europe of growth and new job creation.
With regard to smart regulation, I have already described some aspects in my introductory remarks. Some of you mentioned the need to consult the final consumers – the citizens and businesses. We really do that. We have a very extensive programme of public consultations. We have even extended the period in which citizens or businesses can communicate with us and can comment on our proposals from 8 to 12 weeks.
Regarding SMEs and Mr de Jong’s comments, I would like to assure him and all of you that we are fully committed to following up on the June 2011 European Council conclusions that requested the further reduction of the regulatory burden on SMEs. The SME test we have in the Commission is very thorough, and we have suggested several proposals on this matter to the Council. I have to say that some of them have been too difficult for the Council to adopt, so we will further continue the discussion with the Council on how to reduce administrative burdens for SMEs.
I would like to assure Mr Kožušník from the Czech Republic that we will meet the target of a 25% reduction in the administrative burden. We will actually exceed it because, according to our calculations, we have already put on the table proposals which would reduce the administrative burden by 31%. For that, we need the collaboration of this Parliament and of the Council and, of course, we need appropriate implementation in the Member States. We can make the proposals but the work must be done where the law is applied in the Member States. We hope that we will be very successful in this indeed.
Regarding Ms Geringer de Oedenberg’s comments and her reluctant position on the ‘one regulatory measure in, one out’ approach, here in Europe, we are overshooting this target. Very often, through our legislation, we put one in and we get 27 out, because we are actually replacing legislation at the national level. Very often it is much more efficient to legislate at European level, because it is much better and it brings many economies and a lot of coherence into the single market of the European Union. We should look at each piece of legislation on a case-by-case basis, via a solid impact assessment. I believe that this would definitely be an optimal approach.
Many honourable Members of the European Parliament commented on access to documents. Here I should start by clarifying what I see as a misunderstanding. The Commission’s proposal on access to documents did not have the intention of decreasing the level of transparency. On the contrary, and to give an example on the topical issue of the definition of documents, the Commission’s proposal has been misunderstood as limiting the scope of official documents mentioned in the public registers. This is absolutely not the case. The existing wide definition of documents is maintained, and is only being clarified. This clarification should help identify documents much more rapidly, and thus I believe deliver more transparency rather than less.
Another important point, mentioned by Ms Sommer, is the proposal to ensure space to think. All institutions and bodies must have the ability to reflect on the possible policy options before taking the decision. This was another proposal we made when we were presenting our proposal for this area. I would like to assure you that the Commission invests a great deal in the examination of requests for information and in granting access when appropriate. We are promoting transparency in all our activities and each Commission department has a dedicated member of staff in charge of coordinating the application of access to documents.
To conclude on access to documents, I would like to invite Parliament to consider a twin-track approach: firstly relaunching the legislative process on the recast regulation by concentrating on what really belongs to the fundamental substance of the regulation; and secondly, adopting rapidly the second Commission proposal from last March extending the obligation in terms of access to documents to all EU institutions. I believe that we have to respect the Lisbon Treaty and we have to act quickly because our citizens deserve access to documents and information from other institutions as well.
My last comment is on the proposal for the new procedural court. This is a very sensitive and very important legal question, because under the Treaties, it is the Commission that oversees the application of EU law under the sole control of the Court of Justice. This view is confirmed by the Court’s case-law which we must, of course, all respect. Thus it is for the Commission alone, subject to the authority of the Court of Justice, to organise the way in which it manages infringement proceedings and related work to ensure the correct application of EU law. Therefore, for legal reasons, a regulation based on Article 298 TFEU cannot be used to regulate the specific responsibilities directly conferred by the Treaties upon the Commission in this area.
To conclude, I would like to thank the rapporteurs and the Members of the European Parliament for a very good discussion. We are very much looking forward to discussing with them further progress in this very important area.
Maciej Szpunar, President-in-Office of the Council. – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, honourable Members, the debate on better legislation was about three issues. However, they were related to each other, because they were all about making better laws, so the debate was about three questions which were only different at first glance. All the comments which I have been honoured to hear were extremely interesting and will certainly be taken into account in the work of the Council of the European Union.
I would like to refer to those three issues – the issues which were the subject of today’s debate. I will begin with the question of access to information. I do, of course, share your fears concerning excessive limitations to access, and I agree with your expectations about making the European Union as transparent as possible. However, it should be remembered that we have to find a balance between transparency in terms of the functioning of the European institutions and the efficiency of their work. I agree fully here with the remarks of Ms Sommer, who highlighted precisely this need to ensure efficiency. It is obvious – and this has been admitted, too, by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its jurisprudence – that not all documents must be made publicly accessible. As an example, I can cite the question of documents forwarded to the Council by the Member States. If we made the documents we receive from the Member States available in full, the Member States would stop sending them, which would, in turn, affect the efficiency of the Council of the European Union and its work. If we are talking about access to documents, I think we should also concentrate on improving access to documents which are not classified as sensitive. Mr Jong rightly pointed out that often, the Internet sites of individual institutions are so unclear that even documents to which there is full access are very difficult for the citizens to find.
Finally, I fully agree with the conclusion of the Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Šefčovič, concerning the need to accelerate work on the proposal to recast Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 and bring this piece of European legislation into line with the Treaty of Lisbon. As for questions concerning better legislation, there is no doubt – and we are all agreed about this – that a definitive reduction should be made in administrative burdens, chiefly in relation to businesses and against the background of the economic crisis. Stimulating economic growth must be treated as a chance for the Union to get on track for greater and significant economic growth. In this context, I very much agree with Mr Karim’s report.
Mr Rangel drew attention to the question of public consultations, and also to the enhanced role of national parliaments which was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. From the Council’s point of view, this is something which is extremely important. It is not only a matter, here, of increasing the legitimacy of what the European Union does by increasing the role of national parliaments, because we must also remember that it is the national parliaments which implement the European legislation we adopt. The earlier we involve the national parliaments in the process of making European Union law, the better will be the results we can expect in terms of the process of implementing that law in each Member State.
I would also like to refer to the question of correlation tables. We think there is a chance of reaching agreement, here. I would like to thank Mr Šefčovič for his contribution. I think that in the course of the next few weeks, we will be able to reach agreement on this.
I will make reference to yet one last thing, which is, in principle, the responsibility of the Commission, I mean the application and maintenance of the application of EU law by the Member States. I would just like to add that of course, this House has often pointed to the role of the infringement procedure, in which the Commission brings an action against a Member State in the Court of Justice. Let us remember, however, that the aim of this procedure is not to censure the Member State, but to induce it to implement European Union law correctly. In this context, programmes such as the EU Pilot initiative or the Solvit network are of very great importance. They are also being put into effect with the help of the Member States. The fact that it is possible to bring an end to many infringements before proceedings are instituted is also due to the Member States. Mr President, honourable Members, I would like to thank you all once again for an extremely interesting debate.
Eva Lichtenberger, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I would like to thank my fellow Members for their speeches in this debate. I would also like to give my sincere thanks to the rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs for their contributions.
I believe that a few questions remained unanswered during the course of the answer session. Mr Šefčovič, you were opposed to a proposal for codification, which I am in favour of in my report. This is not about the procedure, but about the first phase, so to speak. We need to be completely clear about that. In 2002, the Commission issued a communication containing clear deadlines. This was the communication about the relationship with complainants, which already included this information. Why can this not be implemented? I very much regret this. I would like to ask you to reconsider your attitude, because this proposal does not interfere in any way with the Commission’s powers.
You have spoken out in praise of the improved cooperation with the Member States. That is right and proper. However, this cannot, of course, replace implementation monitoring, because otherwise we will come down to the level of goodwill and friendship, which is definitely not appropriate for the legal system.
There is still an imbalance when it comes to the infringement procedure. There is much less emphasis on protecting the environment than there is on security, for example. Reminders are sent out immediately in the case of security, but the deadlines are extended for breaches of regulations on fine particles.
I would like to make one thing clear with regard to the reduction in red tape, which everyone always supports. It is important for us to avoid excessive bureaucracy. That is the right thing to do. However, this is generally used by the Member States as an excuse for abolishing environmental legislation. If that is the objective and if the Commission supports this, you will not have my agreement. That would be a violation of the European projects, which are what the citizens of Europe value and appreciate about the European Union. They often believe these projects to be better than what is happening in their own countries. We cannot put this at risk.
Sajjad Karim, rapporteur. – Mr President, may I thank the Commission, the Presidency and the Council for attending and participating in this debate, and may I thank colleagues for the very well-informed, detailed and constructive debate that we have had here today. It is quite clear in terms of better, smarter regulation that the core theme needs to be about reducing burdens.
I recall very clearly President Barroso coming to address a gathering of this House in Brussels in 2004 and pushing for an agenda to reduce burdens through reducing legislation that currently sits on the books. I cannot recall the exact figure, but he said it ran into many thousands of acts that needed to be repealed and put to one side.
Commissioner, I am very encouraged to hear you say that you will reach and exceed the targets by 2012. That is why I argue that we should have a particular Commissioner who is responsible for coming and reporting to this House and saying how far you have proceeded on this agenda. I want to be able to stand here in 2012 and congratulate you, or whichever colleague that takes on this task, and say ‘very well done’.
I had doubts and I told you today that I had those doubts, but you did it and I congratulate you for it. The ‘one-in, one-out’ principle that I have advocated in my report has been the subject of much debate in committee and here today also but, as the Commissioner has quite rightly said, when we get this right, we do not just have one going out, we have 27 going out. However, that raises a further issue in terms of harmony and uniformity of approach. We do not always get that, and that is why I argue that the ‘gold plating’ issue in national parliaments is something which needs to be addressed, whilst underlining the subsidiarity principles and issues that the Presidency has quite rightly picked up on.
I finish simply by saying this: there are two colleagues in particular who were present to make their contribution, but they have decided to leave the Chamber now. I find it thoroughly irresponsible when Europe faces the immense challenges that we are facing today that, rather than advocate that we come together for the betterment of all our nations and all our constituents and citizens, their approach is simply to say we should do nothing.
Judith Sargentini, rapporteur. – (NL) Mr President, I will even go so far as to cover the Treaty of Lisbon, and indeed its very first article. The article says that the Treaty marks a new stage in the process of forming the Union, ‘in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizens’.
The problem in the debate that we had today on access to documents is, in fact, that the presumption that everything is public unless there are reasons for that not to be the case applies neither in the Council nor in the Commission. On the contrary, their guiding principle is to say that ‘everything is shut tight and, you never know, we might just open it up’. The percentage that the President-in-Office of the Council today cited – namely that 75% of Council documents are ultimately made public – is a nice statistic, but that is the wrong approach to take. It would be a completely new style of politics if we were to work on the presumption that transparency is the starting point.
If, as we are told, the Commission respects the Treaty of Lisbon and also sees scope for improvement, why do we have to wait 15 months for proposals? You say that the definition of documents is not being adjusted, but I was not of the impression that we would be negotiating at this point. I believe, though, that Parliament does have doubts about this.
I would like to give two examples of where, at the end of the day, the Council and/or the Commission do not – in my opinion – respect the Treaty of Lisbon. I refer to Article 218 of the implementing agreement, which states that Parliament must have oversight over negotiations with third parties, over international negotiations. Let us take the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) debate. There is no such oversight in that case. My second example is one that I want to bring to the attention, in particular, of the Polish Presidency. There is in existence a study into the flaws in the European arrest warrant – and Ms Hautala’s working documents make this clear – but the Council refuses to publish the report.
This was a positive exchange of opinions but, above all, I wish Mr Cashman all the best and I would like to offer him our help in improving access to documents in the European Union.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place tomorrow at 11.30.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. – (LT) Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the principle of transparency contained in it became a legally binding fundamental right of the citizen. Consequently, EU decisions must be adopted as openly as possible and be as comprehensible to EU citizens as possible, particularly as evaluation of all the activities of the EU and confidence in its work is linked to our citizens’ perception and ability to become familiar with European Union activities and documents adopted. Transparency and openness to the world are particularly necessary for strengthening the principles of democracy and respect for fundamental rights. Furthermore, this is the best way to prevent corruption, fraud, conflicts of interest and mismanagement. I would like to stress that any decisions denying citizens access to documents must be based on clearly and strictly defined exceptions founded on sound arguments and reasonably explained, allowing citizens to understand why they are being denied access and to make use of the legal remedies available to them effectively. The European Parliament has already carried out significant work in this field, but all the EU institutions must work together to create more transparent rules on freedom of information which take adequate account of the proposals in this report, recent case-law and the new Treaties. In order to fully ensure an open and regular dialogue with citizens and the organisations representing them and to improve the practices of institutions, thereby moving towards greater transparency, the Council and the Commission should negotiate with Parliament with a view to adopting a new regulation on the right of access to documents.
Zita Gurmai (S&D), in writing. – As responsible European decision makers, we cannot ignore the fact that European citizens do not trust European institutions and this also means that they do not necessarily trust us. We have been wondering for years how to remedy this. I think it is a two-way street: openness and efficiency. We have to let citizens get more involved in what we do (via, for example, the European Citizens’ Initiative) but, on the other hand, we also have to inform them about what we do and try to make an effort to do our job better. The better legislation package aims precisely to tackle this second challenge. Transparency and openness should be general principles that go without saying. EU legislation should be straight to the point and understandable for everyone, and this should apply both to the documents produced and the way they are prepared and negotiated. Another important aspect is to carefully analyse the possible outcome of our actions and decisions. This will also ensure that we are not misinterpreting or infringing the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. All this is not only a requirement to restore confidence in European institutions, but it is also a must in a modern-day democracy.
Filiz Hakaeva Hyusmenovа (ALDE), in writing. – (BG) Good legislation provides the foundation for the proper functioning of the single market and the EU as a whole. The proper application of the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality and smart regulation is a key factor, especially in view of the current economic situation in Europe. These principles were strengthened and enhanced when the Treaty of Lisbon came into force. However, I think that we must continue our efforts towards applying them more fully and adequately, with a view to boosting competitiveness and economic growth within the European Union. I would like to emphasise several points which I consider to be of paramount importance. During the consultation process, a larger number and more suitable tools need to be used to measure the opinion of all stakeholders, just as the mechanisms for gathering feedback should also be enhanced. This would increase the transparency and improve the quality of legislation, which would support its proper application. I regard the introduction of the SME test as a positive step. However, I think that it should be used to a larger extent so that the new legislation’s potential impact can be measured more fully, especially on small and micro-enterprises. I would like to stress again that the introduction of a method for evaluating the influence policies have on competitiveness would support Europe’s efforts to exit the crisis and would help boost economic growth.
Véronique Mathieu (PPE), in writing. – (FR) I welcome the vote on the report concerning access to documents. Examples abound for which the work of the institutions should be more transparent in order to prevent corruption, fraud, conflicts of interest and poor administration. In particular, I am thinking of the European Union agencies, since their geographical distance makes it more difficult for Parliament to supervise them. The agencies should give a precise reason when refusing access to documents on the assessment and authorisation of various products and medicines, and should not hide behind commercial reasons. Transparency and access to documents should be a central tool in ensuring that they are properly managed. Similarly, constant recourse to experts and lobbies in other institutions could prevent situations from being assessed objectively. Indeed, transparency, as stipulated under the Treaties, is not limited to legislative procedures, but also covers the non-legislative work of the Union’s institutions and bodies. Thus, the functioning of working groups must be made as transparent as possible, by publishing the names of their members, and the draft agendas and minutes of their meetings.
Sirpa Pietikäinen (PPE), in writing. – (FI) My thanks go to the rapporteur and the committee for drafting an excellent report. One of the basic requirements of inclusion and for following Union affairs is the ability to access information on the ideas and development costs that underlie decision making.
The universal right of each citizen to have access to documents drawn up by Parliament, the Commission and the Council is enshrined in the EU Treaty. This right is more precisely described in the 2001 Regulation. The report quite rightly states that the EU progressively risks becoming the target of criticism because of the continuous lack of transparency, openness and access to documents and information for citizens.
More than one NGO just this past year has taken an EU institution to court for not surrendering documents that were requested, either on time or at all. This is not the way to proceed: there must be adherence to the principle of the greatest possible transparency. Only in exceptional circumstances should the authorities be able to refuse to hand over a document.
This principle of openness must, at long last, be implemented in the EU. A secretive Union beavering away in its ivory tower will not gain favour in the eyes of the people. The keywords are people’s inclusion and transparency. When civil society is itself having a say in the development of EU matters, the message concerning the work of the Union at the same time gets straight to grassroots level.
Olga Sehnalová (S&D), in writing. – (CS) The question of public access to EU documents should also be linked to the issue of the public consultations announced by the Commission. These are overwhelmingly accessible only in English, which, in my opinion, limits the possibility of citizens from non-English speaking countries to express themselves fully on the public consultation topics. Access to public consultations should be improved generally because, if we want to see the widest possible public involvement in the decision-making process, which was one of the main requirements arising from the consultation on priority proposals for the Single Market Act, we should create the right conditions for this, and not just on paper.
Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing. – (PL) The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a new constitutional framework of EU institutional transparency, with a view to an open, efficient and independent European administration, by establishing a firm fundamental right of access to documents of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.
Transparency is a general principle, and with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, it became a legally binding fundamental right enjoyed by the citizens. In relation to this, all decisions refusing access to documents must be based on very clearly defined exceptions. It is necessary to establish an appropriate balance between transparency and data protection. Data protection should not be ‘misused’, in particular, for the purpose of covering conflicts of interest. Documents relating to international agreements, including documents adopted by any bodies which have the task of implementing or monitoring the application of such agreements, should be disclosed to the public, as they are not categorically excluded from public access. Access to these documents should be refused only when there is real harm to international relations.
Parliament, which is elected by the EU’s citizens, is entrusted by the Treaties with an institutional role in representing the public interest. It is necessary to make sure that the new prerogatives assigned to Parliament in the field of international agreements are fully respected and that no bilateral agreements with third countries may prohibit this.