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10.1.1.  Information efforts of the European institutions

    At present each of the three main European institutions has its own means and instruments to carry out its information policy. While preserving full autonomy, the Parliament and the Commission have established an Inter-Institutional Group on Information to coordinate their policies. They carry out jointly some priority information campaigns on subjects of topical interest, such as the euro (before its circulation), the new enlargement of the Union or the climate change in Europe. The Commission Representations and the European Parliament External Offices in the Member States are co-operating locally on an ad-hoc basis. Although it shares some means of communication with the Commission and the Parliament, such as the Europa server and the Europe by Satellite (EBS) - a television news instrument offering live coverage of the institutions' work and news summaries - the Council has a separate information and communication policy from the other institutions. As it has few budgetary resources for this purpose, it operates its own relations with the press and media. In general, except for a limited co-operation between the Commission and the Parliament, the three main European institutions have independent and heterogeneous information activities.

    Although in its White Paper on a ''European communication policy'' the Commission acknowledges that the success of this much needed policy depends on the involvement of all the key players – the other EU institutions and bodies, the national, regional and local authorities in the Member States, European political parties and the civil society – it does not explain how these players would get involved in the communication partnership. Instead of proposing a European Parliament and Council decision or regulation, which would engage all European institutions and Member States to participate in the communication effort, it advocates a ''European Charter or Code of Conduct on Communication'' which would define common principles to be followed by the players on a voluntary basis. Instead of proposing a common civic education for young Europeans, it invites the Member States to explore the best ways to bring together European teachers in this field with a view to exchanging ideas on innovative approaches to civic education. Instead of proposing that each important new European measure (directive, regulation, decision) be accompanied by an explanatory press release in all official languages, it encourages EU institutions to explore with a wide range of media players how to better provide the media (pan-European, national and local) with material which is relevant for them, with a view to adapting the information to the needs of different countries and segments of the population. Instead of asking each Minister participating in a Council session, which would have adopted an important measure, to comment in his or her own words the common press release, it calls for a partnership with the Member States to publicize public and parliamentary discussion on the Commission’s annual strategic priorities and discussions between national ministers and European Commissioners or other such matters, which might be of interest for the Commission but of no interest at all for the general public.

    The information and communication strategy for the European Union implemented by the Commission with the hypothetical voluntary synergy of the Member States, which should improve perception of the European Union and institutions and of their legitimacy [COM/2002/350], is clearly inadequate, as demonstrated by the indifference of citizens at the European elections of June 2004. Expressing its concern at the low voter turnout in those elections, the Brussels European Council (18-19 June 2004) recognised the need to strengthen a sense among the citizens of the importance of the work of the Union and its relevance to their daily lives. It would be up to the Commission to propose that the Union faces this need with a common communication policy.

    As a matter of fact, the Commission is the main provider of information on the EC/EU. Major European affairs and problems, which occasionally attract television attention, are presented and commented in the press room of the Commission by its President, the competent Commissioner or a spokesperson. Rarely is press attention focussed on the European Parliament and almost never on the Council of Ministers. Although it practically monopolises European information, the Commission is not a secretive organisation and is even a good provider of information, as far as its activities are concerned. Its Representations in the capitals and other major cities of the Member States are open to the interested public. Its Office of Official Publications (EUR-OP) publishes hundreds of documents every year on all common policies. Its Europa server on the Internet gives free and user-friendly access to more than 60 databases, each of which contains several hundred thousand documents in the 23 official languages of the European Union [Regulation 1/1958, consolidated version 01.01.2007]. All the documents listed in the footnotes of this book are accessible at the Eur-lex database. The addresses of the general and of some of the most interesting free sites of Europa are the following:

    ·         Europa gateway;

    ·         information for citizens;

    ·         EU News;

    ·         European legislation

    ·         common policies;

    ·         books, publications;

    ·         Who's Who in the institutions;

    ·         Business opportunities (public procurement).

    Moreover, the Commission does not make any secret of its intentions concerning legislation in preparation. All its proposals as well as the acts adopted by the European Parliament and the Council are communicated directly to the press the day of their adoption in ''Europa Press room''. In case of preparation of new policies or changes in existing policies, the Commission publishes Green Papers (reflection documents inviting a debate on the options of a policy before the preparation of proposals) and White Papers (general documents announcing a programme of actions). A White Paper usually presents the points of view of interested parties (organisations, associations, institutions…) at national and European level on a Green Paper, along with the conclusions and intentions of the Commission. This step by step approach is meant to promote an exchange of views between the Commission and the interested parties on legislation in preparation.

    Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union stipulates that decisions are taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen. Article 15 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU specifies that any citizen of the Union and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State has a right of access to documents of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, subject to the principles and conditions defined by these institutions. In December 1993 the Council and the Commission approved a code of conduct laying down general rules on such right of access [Code of conduct and Decision 2001/840]. On the basis of this code the Commission introduced practical procedures, which enable the public to have simple, rapid and decentralised access to its documents [Decision 2001/937]. The Council has also made available to the public certain categories of its documents (almost 60% of all its documents) [Annex III, Decision 2001/840]. A regulation defines the principles, conditions and limits (on grounds of public or private interest) governing the right of access to Parliament, Council and Commission documents provided for in Article 15 of the TFEU in such a way as to ensure the widest possible access to documents [Regulation 1049/2001]. The Parliament, the Council and the Commission [Decision 2001/844] have amended their rules of procedure accordingly. However, the Council still meets behind closed doors when acting as legislator, a fact that hinders the transparency of the legislative process.

    Transparency must go hand in hand with the quality of drafting of European legislation. A declaration to the Final Act attached to the Amsterdam Treaty noted that the quality of drafting of European legislation is crucial if it is to be properly implemented by the competent national authorities and better understood by the public and the business world. It urged the three institutions involved in the procedure for adopting European legislation [see section 4.3] to lay down guidelines on the quality of the drafting of the said legislation, which they did [Interinstitutional agreement]. The Commission has pledged itself to codify and render readable the European legislation [COM/2001/645] and it presents an annual report giving a factual account of how the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are applied and explaining the Union's policy-making process [COM/2003/71, see section 3.2].

    The information policy of the Commission is designed to contribute to the objectives of transparency and accessibility of European legislation. The aim is to inform citizens of the nature and the scale of the challenges facing the European Union, to demonstrate the comparative benefits of European integration and to show people in concrete terms, at local level, the effect of European policies on their daily lives. To attain these objectives the Commission uses several instruments, such as: the Commission Representations in the Member States, which act as discussion and information fora and as centres for coordinating national relays to reach both the public at large and specialised audiences in the Member States; and the Europe Direct site, which provides a dialogue in all the languages of the Union through a free number, e-mail, letter or fax, enabling citizens and businesses find out about their rights and get advice about all sorts of opportunities in the EU, e.g., European programmes that can help implement projects. Various other activities of the Commission are designed to improve the dissemination of available information. They include the activities of the Publications Office of the Union (EUR-OP) and of the Statistical Office, the management of the historical archives of the European Communities and the provision of information to universities.

    The Publications Office of the European Union (EUR-OP) publishes and distributes, on behalf of all the institutions, the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ) and other publications [Decision 2009/496]. The Official Journal is published every day in the 23 official languages of the Union and every year contains more than a million pages, giving a measure of the work volume of the Office for Official Publications and its importance for citizens who want to keep abreast of European affairs. The distribution network of EUR-OP is built on an increasing number of bookshops in the Member States and in several third countries.

    In addition, all the legislation of the EU/EC (Treaties, secondary legislation in force, legislation in preparation and Court of Justice decisions) is stored in the interinstitutional computerised documentation system on European law. Responding to the enlargement of the EU and the European Parliament's call, in a resolution of 19 December 2002, for free access to CELEX, the new EUR-Lex site is merged with CELEX to provide free access to the vast corpus of existing documentation on the law of the European Union in 23 languages. For example, this system can supply without supplementary research the text of a basic regulation and all its subsequent amendments. We should emphasise once again, however, that this excellent and free information source is useless, unless one knows the exact references of the legislative act, Court ruling or Commission proposal, as mentioned in the Europedia portal.

    The Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat), which works alongside national statistical offices, aims at developing a "European statistical space" based on a set of standards, methods and organisational structures that make it possible to produce comparable, reliable and relevant statistics throughout the Union. It draws up statistics that attempt to meet the needs of the general public arising from the various common policies: economic, industrial, agricultural, social, regional and so on. The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board provides an independent overview of the European Statistical System [Decision 235/2008]. The general statistical classification of economic activities within the European Communities (NACE), adopted in 1990, is one of the cornerstones of the Union's statistical system and is often adopted by the countries of the EFTA and of Central and Eastern Europe for their own statistical purposes [Regulation 3037/90]. The Member States have agreed to pass on data subject to statistical confidentiality to the Statistical Office, on condition that all the necessary steps are taken to ensure confidentiality [Regulation 1588/90]. The Eurostat database provides electronic versions of all publications free of charge.

    Comparable, reliable and relevant statistics throughout the European Union are a source of growing interest to the general public. Article 338 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU stipulates that the production of European statistics shall conform to impartiality, reliability, objectivity, scientific independence, cost-effectiveness and statistical confidentiality. A Regulation establishes a legislative framework for the systematic and programmed production of European statistics on the basis of uniform standards or, in specific cases, of harmonised methods with a view to the formulation, application, monitoring and assessment of the policies of the Union [Regulation 223/2009 and Decision 2012/504]. This is notably the case concerning European statistics on tourism [Regulation 692/2011] and European demographic statistics [Regulation 1260/2013]. Indices of consumer prices and of household consumption expenditure are harmonised [Regulation 2494/95 and Regulation 701/2006] as are short-term economic statistics [Regulation 1165/98] and labour force sample surveys intended to provide comparable statistics on the level and structure of employment and unemployment [Regulation 577/98]. A Regulation established a common framework for the production, transmission and evaluation of comparable labour cost indices in the Union [Regulation 450/2003]. Other Regulations concern: the trading of goods between Member States [Regulation 638/2004, last amended by Regulation 1093/2013]; national and regional accounts in the Union [Regulation 549/2013]; quarterly financial accounts for general government [Regulation 501/2004]; the harmonisation of gross national income at market prices (GNI Regulation) [Regulation 1287/2003];  the systematic production of Community statistics on the information society [Regulation 808/2004]; and European statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) [Regulation 1177/2003]. A Programme for the Modernisation of European Enterprise and Trade Statistics (MEETS) aims to provide high-quality statistical information on the structural changes in the European economy and its business sector [Decision 1297/2008].

    Researchers into European integration now enjoy access to the European Community/Union historical archives. Under the 30-year rule, the archives of the ECSC have been open to public consultation since 1952 and those of the EEC and Euratom since 1958 [Regulation 354/83]. The Archis data base lists the files stored in the archives of the Florence European University Institute. In addition, the Council has recommended to the Member States to increase cooperation in the field of archives in Europe [Recommendation 2005/835].

    The Commission also promotes teaching on European integration at university level, notably by granting financial support for the setting-up of "Jean Monnet chairs", a symbolic term for full-time teaching posts devoted to European integration. The Jean Monnet Project “Understanding European Integration” is designed to encourage the development of centres of excellence on European issues at universities and support academic initiatives related to the teaching of European integration (theory, history, economic, legal, social and political aspects). Actually, the Jean Monnet network consists of more than 1600 professors specialising in European integration studies in Europe and many non-European countries. The European Community Studies Association network ("ECSA-net") on the Internet, coordinated by the Commission, provides up-to-date information for the Euristote database on research into European integration, Jean Monnet chairs and courses, postgraduate research and degrees, European documentation centres and a worldwide directory of specialised teachers and researchers.

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    Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

    Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
    Access to European Union law, economics, policies
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