Minister Roche: Address to EPSU Conference on the Convention on the Future of Europe- 2
Second, the Convention is remarkable in that it contains amongst its membership not only representatives of the Governments of the member states but also substantial representation from the national Parliament and the European Parliament. Indeed, in many ways the latter could be said to play a particularly dominant role.
The third and very welcome difference of course is the involvement of both the Governments and the Parliaments of the applicant countries. It is entirely appropriate that states that are about to become members of the European Union should be fully engaged in the Convention. Ireland would hope that going forward beyond the Convention these states would have the right to participate, as full members states, in the ultimate Intergovernmental Conference. It is my strong view that anything less than full participation in the IGC by the applicant countries would be less than acceptable. Participation in an IGC as contributors without full membership of the Union is significantly less than full participation.
There is a great deal about the Convention that is positive. Its openness is refreshing. The dedication of its members to the task is evident. There would seem however to be one shortcoming. In my personal view the Convention and its working groups have been very inwardly focused. The Convention has, it must be accepted, established very excellent working groups to look at matters such as subsidiarity, the role of national Parliaments, the process of simplification and external relations however the focus has been on what might be described as the institution level. One important element seems thus far to have played a limited role. This is the relationship between the community and its citizens. For all the excellent work that the Convention has done it seems to me as a recently appointed member that this is a fundamental oversight and one which must and which can even at this late stage be addressed.
The Missing Dimension
The Referenda held in Ireland on the Nice Treaty and on the earlier Treaties provide important lessons not just for Ireland but also for the community as a whole. It has been evident for many years and much commented on that there has been a growing gulf between the community and the citizens. In the Convention an approach must be identified to bridge this gulf. The European Union does not belong to any political, judicial or administrative elite; it belongs to the citizens of Europe.
At EU, as indeed at member state level significant political, organisational and economic advantages can be identified by overcoming the type of gap that exists between administration at all levels and citizens. In its work on subsidiarity, the Convention is dealing with one dimension of this problem. The identification of those areas, which are appropriate for community involvement, and those areas, which must be the domain of the member state, is work, which is self evidently important. Equally the effort, which the Convention has invested in establishing greater involvement by national parliaments, is of critical importance that it helps to bridge a gap at a very important level. The work of the Convention on simplification although complex is a response to one of the central challenges which the Convention faces, the challenge of producing a less complex more efficient more accessible community based on legal instruments and procedures which are less cumbersome, more effective less burdensome and above all more accessible to the citizens.
There is however one area where work is still required, this is the area of interface between the citizens of the member states and the union. Improving citizen administration relations has some very real advantages. The benefits accrue equally to the administration, to political leaders and to the citizen. Advantages can be identified under three headings; political, economic and organisation.
The area of citizen-administration contact is important politically because it represents the border between the citizen and the State or in this case between the citizen and the Community. Attitudes towards the Union are formed at this point. In the short term it is in the interests of the EU to avoid friction between the citizen and the administration in order to win and to hold the public cooperation and confidence, which are a necessary ingredient in the success of all public policies. In the medium term the maintenance of a smooth relationship is important in terms of the political support for the EU. In the long term the avoidance of friction is important because of the contribution it makes towards the legitimisation of the very Union itself.
Improvements in citizen-administration relations also have an economic dimension. Unnecessary bureaucracy and inappropriate administrative systems are an avoidable cost. Breakdowns in citizen administration relations demand rectification and are a direct and avoidable cost. Breakdowns arising from operational unpopularity can also give rise to indirect or opportunity costs by precipitating the termination of otherwise sound policies. There is, in addition a budgetary aspect to the rectification of a breakdown at the interface level in that staff and administration cost escalations can invalidate the financial premises on which a policy was approved in addition to creating budgetary control problems. Measures to improve relations can avoid these costs, for the EU and the Member States alike.
Another economic element is the contribution that improved relations can make to development. Development can either be encouraged can impeded by the operation of policies. Excessive regulation, bureaucratic delays, onerous or overly costly procedures can provide a disincentive to enterprise. Cutting through red tape can cut costs, free enterprise and at the same time allow public service personnel the opportunity to employ their talents positively. Minimising unnecessary bureaucracy is a win/win situation for all.
Organisationally, focusing on the relationship between the citizen and the Union offers a simpler, cheaper and potentially more cost effective alternative to complex grand reform strategies. Quicker organisational advantage is that concentration on the relationship between citizen and the Union in reform strategies aids those planning administrative or policy innovations by enhancing their capacity to anticipate public reaction to new policies, and therefore to avoid future problems.
Above all a root and branch approach in this area would help refocus the Community on its most important test serving the needs of the citizens of the EU. In the weeks and the months ahead as a member of the Convention I will continue to call for attention to this vital area. The success of the Convention will, I believe, be measured by the extent to which it bridges the gap which has been allowed to open between the EU and its citizens.Top