What is a consultation?
The EU-Commission recently defined it in document Com(2006) 194: “consultations” are those processes through which the Commission wishes to trigger input from interested parties for the shaping of policy prior to a decision by the Commission. “Interested parties” means all who wish to participate in consultations run by the Commission, whether they are organisations or private citizens.
Where to find out more about consultations?
The European Union runs an own website Your Voice in Europe which provides an overview of ongoing EU-consultations. We select above consultations which we deem to be important for FFII supporters and members. Unfortunately Your Voice is incomplete as it is not the single point of entry which it was meant to be. Often Directorates do not add their consultation procedures to the site. As the responsibility for consultations lies upon the directorates the consultation procedures differ very much. But in most cases consultations are open to the general public and everybody is free to submit.
The commmision starts a consultation on Foobar. I find Foobar damaging. What shall I do?
A consultation is an indication that the respective body considers action in the field necessary. It could well be that the branch will propose a Foobar directive later the year. So it is an indication for you to get your stakeholders organised and prepare positions. The earlier you prepare and file concerns the better results are to be expected. Maybe you like Barfoos more? A consultation is also an open channel to present ideas for actions and to show up as an Barfoos stakeholder.
A consultation is rather information supply than representation.
But by launching a consultation the Commission also offers you insights of what the officers want. They go public with their ideas in order to receive comments from you.
Where is the trap?
There is no trap but we you will often observe flaws in consultation procedures. One example is that unlike other official EU documents consultation questionaires and background papers are often only available in English, German and French language. It is a matter of administrative simplification which does not take into account that they reach out for a linguistic diverse European public. We recommend you to answer the consultation in your monther tongue. It is your right.
Studies on the matter or impact analysis studies provided as background documents are often bogus science. When the Commission aims to harmonise legislation you will hardly find comparative overviews of existing regulations in the member states. This is because harmonisation is a formal requirement for EU regulatory action which is often not taken serious. But when you don't know what will get harmonised (current status) it becomes quite difficult to make comments on planned policies.
In many cases bias predominates a true-and-fair view. EU-officials often predict the outcome of the consultation or abuse responses to get their predefined results affirmed. Officials are usually quite passionate about their own policies. That is why some general directorates outsourced consultation procedures or analysis of results to external contractors to get more balanced results. In most cases policy bias should be no problem. It is well understood that officials do not want consultations to get hijacked. But when the famous spacecraft Brussels consensus fails the reality check it will be hard work for you and your parliament representatives to change their opinions.
Activism in EU administration is closely tied to the insufficient power of democratic bodies on the EU level, an underdeveloped European public sphere, limited separation of powers and agenda driven policymaking derived from the EU treaty regulatory permissions. Commission officials do not just help to reform or patch existing laws like our national legislators but prepare European primary regulation which follows certain policy objectives: strengthening, improving etc. And they are even willing to defend their objectives against EU-Parliament majorities and fully exercise their institutional powers.
Another common flaw of consultations is that sometimes submissions and results do not get published.
FFII made suggestions on how to improve consultation procedures before and continues to do so. You should also feel free to ask the responsible authorities for improvements in your consultation process or openly criticise unsound action.