Committee governance in an enlarged European Union
Convenor: Dr. Uwe Puetter, Center for Policy Studies
Expert committees composed of senior officials from the European Commission and national ministries form an integral part of the European Union's system of governance. Committees play a vital role in the preparation of final decision-making within the Council and the Commission. Most importantly, with its system of committees the European Union has developed a dense network of policy expertise. Besides the task of preparing new legislation committees are crucial to processes of information exchange, peer review and the comparative assessment of country specific policy responses. The latter techniques become increasingly relevant as the European Union embarks on closer policy coordination in fields where a formal transfer of political authority to the supranational level is not (yet) an option. This applies for example to the areas of foreign and security policy, and economic and social policy.
In the absence of supranational rules consensual agreement over policy is crucial in order to ensure coherent policy responses at the European level. In general, expert committees in the European Union are considered to be vital in processes of consensus formation. They facilitate agreement in the Council and among European Union institutions. Because of their composition and the frequency of their meetings committees are more likely to engage policy-makers in processes of mutual learning and deliberation as they emphasize the importance of technical and/or normative considerations. In addition, a routinised policy dialogue among senior representatives of the Commission and the national ministries facilitates the implementation of legal provisions as well as non-binding policy guidelines. Finally, the work of the committees leads to a dense web of inter-ministerial contacts.
The main aim of this workshop was to establish in how far the substantial enlargement of the Union by ten new members in 2004 presented a particular challenge to the functioning of the existing system of committee governance. While it was clear that committees had a vital role to play in European Union governance more research was needed on how the system would function in a Union of 25. Two main issue areas were identified:
- Does the drastic increase in membership alter the way in which committees negotiate and deliberate over policy? Is it possible to maintain a close dialogue in such an environment? How do individual committees react to the challenge of increased membership?
- Are the new member states able to benefit in the same way from the system of committee governance as the old members? Are the administrative resources required for dealing with the work of committees sufficient? Can representatives from the new member states make their voices heard in the committees?
In order to advance our understanding of committee governance in the European Union this workshop brought together academics and policy-makers working in the field. The one-day event featured two research sessions and two sessions involving senior policy-makers who discussed their experiences with committee work in an enlarged EU.