Better Lawmaking: The Experience and the View of the European Commission

4 Colum. J. Eur. L. 617 (1998)

Giuseppe Ciavarini Azzi. Director in the Secretariat General of the European Commission, Brussels.

“Better lawmaking” is a phrase coined by the European Commission in 1995 to describe respect for legal principles (e.g., subsidiarity and proportionality) or practical criteria (e.g., the quality of drafting Community legislation, simplification and consolidation of existing legislation and improved access to information concerning Community law) enabling European Community legislation to respond more effectively to the objectives of integration and the concerns of citizens. The debate surrounding “better lawmaking” did not come to life overnight. It came to the fore when the European Community was going through a period of producing reams of legislation, attempting to create the single market by means of an accelerated legislative program that had to be brought to a successful conclusion before the end of 1992. The debate focused on the principle of subsidiarity before throwing the spotlight onto additional principles and criteria.

The debate developed in three stages. First, at Maastricht the discussion surrounding the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality reached fever pitch leading up to and during the negotiations that resulted in the signing of the Treaty on European Union in February 1992. This treaty inserted into the Treaty of Rome Article 3b on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.) Second, at the December 1992 European Council in Edinburgh, practical steps were taken to implement these principles, largely on the basis of a Commission proposal. The Commission implemented them immediately without waiting for November 1993, when the new treaty was to enter into force. The European Council also set out objectives for quality of drafting, simplification and formal and informal consolidation. Finally, the Amsterdam Treaty, adopted by the European Council in June 1997, completed the structure, containing a protocol on the implementation of subsidiarity and proportionality and a declaration on the quality of legislation. In its conclusions, the Amsterdam European Council reaffirmed the importance of simplifying Community legislation, a requisite for improving the quality of European laws.

The Commission is responsible for initiating Community legislation, and, as the starting point of the legislative procedure, it has a decisive role to play in better lawmaking. The Commission is also the Community institution that is most committed to this policy. Respect for the principle of subsidiarity was a leitmotiv for the last Delors Commission, while “do less, but do it better” has been the principle of the Santer Commission since it took office in 1995, expressing its intention to concentrate on political priorities. The fact remains, however, that better lawmaking is a shared responsibility of all Community institutions, particularly the European Parliament and the Council. The improvement of lawmaking also concerns the Member States, since they have to implement Community legislation correctly.

This Article aims to give a brief description of the Commission’s experience. First, an overview of the evolution of the Commission’s exercise of its right of initiative will be given, including the methods employed when legislative proposals are prepared (e.g., respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, consultation with interested parties and pursuit of drafting quality). The Article will then turn to existing legislation that requires simplification in certain areas and which could be made more comprehensible through formal and informal consolidation and recasting.