Assessing Approximation of Administrative Principles and Practices

The public administration is a domestic affair for EU Member States. However, national public administrations have to apply the acquis communautaire in a homogeneous way in order to ensure that European citizens are able to enjoy the rights granted to them by the EU Treaties, irrespective of the country in which they live. National administrations have to apply European legislation as if it were domestic legislation. Do the other Member States have an interest in ensuring that each national administration has comparable quality and professionalism? Is there a process of administrative convergence among EU Member States? Are there benchmarks against which this convergence can be assessed?

The democratic rule of law is an EU accession criterion to be introduced in public administrations.

SIGMA's approach to public administration reform has been driven by the necessities of its beneficiary countries, coupled with the requirements of their future European Union membership. In these countries the reforms have been and still are mainly EU accession-driven, and the preoccupation is to align their civil services and public administrations with standards and principles that are shared by older EU Member States. This entails systemic changes (i.e. changes in values and perceptions), not only changes in administrative processes.

On the other hand, SIGMA was asked by the European Commission to assess the reforms of public administration in EU candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on the horizontal systems of governance, such as civil service, management of public expenditure, internal audit, financial control, public procurement and policy-making capacities. The concern of the European Commission was, on the one hand, that membership in the European Union required that every administrative domain and economic sector of a member state respect the acquis communautaire. In the various domains of the acquis, the targets and content of reforms are fairly clear. Candidate countries need to transpose EC legislation into their domestic legal order and then implement and enforce it. On the other hand, the Commission was concerned by the fact that no acquis communautaire existed for setting standards of horizontal systems of governance. Targets and orientations for public administration reform in the perspective of EU accession are therefore less distinct.

In spite of the lack of acquis communautaire for horizontal governance systems, candidate countries are required: 1) to have administrative systems capable of transposing, implementing and enforcing the acquis according to the principle of "effective results" ("obligation de résultat"); 2) to meet the criteria required for EU membership, as adopted by the EU Council (referred to as the Copenhagen and Madrid criteria); and 3) to have their progress towards EU accession measured against those criteria, i.e. in the wording of the European Commission's Regular Reports, in terms of their "administrative and judicial capacity to apply the acquis".

1. Convergence of governance systems among EU Member States: A European Administrative Space?
Horizontal governance systems of a candidate country are expected to meet some requirements that, although not explicit in the Treaties, are crucial for the reliable functioning of the entire administration, including in areas of the acquis. However, the lack of general EC legislation applicable in the domains of public administration and governance, along with the disparate administrative arrangements in the internal domestic orders of member states, poses a problem for candidate countries. They need to identify what specifically these requirements consist of and where to find them in practical terms.

In the course of time, a relatively wide consensus on key components of good governance has emerged among democratic states. These components include, among others, the rule of law, technical and managerial competence, organisational capacity and citizens' participation. EU Member States have different legal traditions and different systems of governance. In spite of that, within the EU this consensus has established over the course of time a set of common principles for public administration, which is shared by its member states. Originally, these principles were defined and refined through the jurisprudence of national courts and, subsequently, by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice. They can thus now be considered as part of the acquis communautaire and can be grouped into the following four categories, with the rule of law in a prominent position:

1. Rule of law, i.e. legal certainty and predictability of administrative actions and decisions, which refers to the principle of legality as opposed to arbitrariness in public decision-making and to the need for respect of legitimate expectations of individuals;
2. Openness and transparency, aimed at ensuring the sound scrutiny of administrative processes and outcomes and its consistency with pre-established rules;
3. Accountability of public administration to other administrative, legislative or judicial authorities, aimed at ensuring compliance with the rule of law;
4. Efficiency in the use of public resources and effectiveness in accomplishing the policy goals established in legislation and in enforcing legislation.

As far as these principles are shared among EU Member States, we can speak of a common "European Administrative Space" (EAS). The term "European administrative space" is a metaphor. An administrative space, properly speaking, is possible when a set of administrative principles, rules, and regulations are uniformly enforced in a given territory covered by a national constitution. Traditionally, the territory where administrative law has been applicable has been that of sovereign states. The issue of a common administrative law for all of the sovereign states integrated into the European Union has been a matter for debate, unevenly intensive, since the outset of the European Community.

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