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Report on Consultation with stakeholders in the shaping of national and regional policies affecting small business (Sep 2004)

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Best Procedure Expert Group.

The Competitiveness Council of March 2003 invited the European Commission to launch a project on better involvement of small businesses in the consultation process at national and regional level.

The Best Procedure project on “Consultation with stakeholders in the shaping of national and regional policies affecting small business” was therefore launched in autumn 2003, in the framework of the Multi-annual Programme for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (2001-2005). The final report is based on the results of the online survey conducted by the Commission and the research developed in cooperation with national experts.

Well formulated policies and good quality regulations are of a crucial importance for the successful operations of European companies. Since small enterprises constitute approximately 99% of businesses in all European economies, it is therefore essential, that the policy makers carefully listen to their opinions, involve them in the decision making process at an early stage and take their specific situation and their interests into account when developing new legislation and policies.

The situation in the area of consultation has significantly improved in recent years but “the level of business involvement into the law and policy making differs from country to country and in some of them still remains weak”, as stated in the implementation reports of the European Charter for Small Enterprises.

This statement is particularly relevant to the small business involvement in the policy making and the consultation process, therefore Member States were recommended to provide opportunities for small businesses to voice their interests in legislation and policy making in a more regular and systematic way.

On the basis of conclusions of the Charter implementation reports, the Competitiveness Council, held in March 2003, invited the Commission to launch a project on better involvement of small businesses in the consultation process at national and regional level. The Best Procedure project on “Consultation with stakeholders in the shaping of national and regional policies affecting small business” was launched in autumn 2003, in the framework of the Multi-annual Programme for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (2001-2005).

A working group, composed of national experts designated by governments of the EU Member States, EEA countries and Candidate Countries, was established in order to bring together the necessary expertise, to provide information on consultation procedures and best practices, and finally, to ensure that national administrations and business organisations from the participating countries are actively involved in the project activities.

In parallel to the work of the expert group, an online survey has been carried out by the Commission via its Interactive Policy Making consultation tool. The survey covered 31 European countries and it was extensively advertised through the Commission communication channels and the Euro Info Centres’ network as well as via the European business organisations and among national and regional governments and business organisations from the participating countries.

The two separate questionnaires addressed to public administrations and business organisations were available on line for 15 weeks (June/September 2004) in 16 languages of the EU Member States as well as in Romanian and Turkish. As a result, 268 replies were received from the representatives of business organisations and public administrations.

The Report is based on the results of the online survey conducted by the Commission and the research developed in cooperation with national experts.

According to the survey results, almost 60% of business representatives and 30% of respondents representing public administrations in Europe still consider the consultation process unsatisfactory.

The Report concludes that:

 

  • involving and consulting relevant stakeholders at an early stage,
  • employing a variety of consultation methods,
  • conducting regulatory impact assessments and ensuring specific provisions for assessing the effects of new legislation and policies on small business,
  • allowing sufficient time for consultation to reach its objectives,
  • providing feedback after consultation
  • and publishing results of consultation

 

should be a prevailing behavior of governments in the process of shaping new legislation or policies.

The main problems that business organisations face during the consultation process are the following: “not enough time for preparing a contribution”, “not enough human resources” and not enough expertise within the organisation”.

A European model of consultation has been developed with the aim to provide national and regional governments with a practical tool that can serve as a reference while planning and organising consultations in their own countries. It can help to identify the main stages of the consultation process and the main actions that might be undertaken in order to make the whole exercise more successful. The reference model of consultation relates to the indicators proposed for monitoring progress in the area of consultation. The qualitative and quantitative indicators can also be used to identify national or regional targets and to undertake actions leading to improvements in the area of consultation. Experts have underlined that national targets should be different for each country, as the consultation structures and procedures as well as national priorities vary from country to country. Moreover, several good practices in the area of consultation were identified at both national and regional level. These can be very useful to other countries, after applying the necessary modifications and adjustment to the specific national or regional conditions and structures. They can also be a source of inspiration on how to improve the existing consultation procedures and contribute to a better and more informed policy making.

The Report sets out recommendations – addressing national and regional governments - on how to establish a more efficient dialogue with stakeholders and how to improve the consultation procedures.

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