Before making proposals and taking policy initiatives, the Commission must be aware of new situations and issues developing in Europe and it must consider whether EU legislation is the best way to deal with them. Therefore the Commission consults and is in constant touch with external parties when elaborating its policies. These include all those who wish to participate in consultations run by the Commission, be it market operators, NGOs, private persons, representatives of regional and local authorities, civil society organisations, academics and technical experts or interested parties in third countries.
The dialogue between the Commission and interested parties can take many forms, and methods for consultation and dialogue are adapted to different policy fields. The Commission consults through consultation papers (Green and White Papers), communications, advisory committees, expert groups, workshops and forums. Online consultation is commonly used. Moreover, the Commission may organise ad hoc meetings and open hearings. Often, a consultation is a combination of different tools and takes place in several phases during the preparation of a policy proposal.
All Commission Directorates-General have contacts with external parties in their respective fields and are responsible for their own mechanisms of dialogue and consultation. This decentralised structure allows the specific nature and conditions of different policy areas to be taken into account.
The decentralised organisation of consultation needs a common framework in which to operate to ensure that consultations are carried out in a transparent and coherent way throughout the Commission. In 2002 the Commission set out principles and minimum standards for consulting external parties. The consultation standards are part of the Better Lawmaking action plan, which aims at clearer and better European legislation. According to these standards attention needs to be paid to providing clear consultation documents, consulting all relevant target groups, leaving sufficient time for participation, publishing results and providing feedback.
These consultation standards apply in particular at the policy-shaping phase to major proposals before decisions are taken. In particular, they apply to proposals in the impact assessment process which are included in the Commission's Annual Legislative and Work Programme. The consultation standards have been applied from 2003 onwards. Their application has recently been addressed in the follow-up to the 'European Transparency Initiative' in March 2007.
Reporting on the Commission's consultation of interested parties is included in the Better Lawmaking Annual Reports.
During the legislative process, the Commission also consults the European Economic and Social Committee (representing various socio-economic organisations in Member States) and the Committee of the Regions (made up of representatives of local and regional authorities), and seeks the opinions of national parliaments and governments.
Furthermore, the Commission is engaged in other forms of institutionalised dialogue with interested parties in specific domains, the most developed being the social dialogue by which the Commission consults the social partners at European level.
The European Commission consults interested parties during the
policy-shaping phase in order to improve the quality of policy
proposals and to enhance the involvement of external parties.