The TARN academic research network was founded in 2015 and received co-funding as Jean Monet Network by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union over the period from 2015 until 2018.
In order to provide an overview of the most important findings of this period, in this blog post the TARN Statement on EU Agencies Reform and the TARN Policy Brief are introduced:
The TARN Policy Brief
The TARN Policy Brief discusses areas where immediate (or short-term) action is possible to rationalise but also enhance EU agencification. The Brief identifies three key challenges faced by both EU agencies and the political institutions. In a way, agencies have been a victim of their own success. Indeed, the institutions perceive them as useful instruments to address deficits in policy implementation or as answers to policy crises, resulting in a ‘mushrooming’ of agencies in absence of a clear framework for their establishment and operation. However, a well thought out framework would allow a more considered definition of the mandates of the EU agencies and the (accountability, budgetary, etc.) requirements imposed on them. Today therefore:
- agencies are fighting to maintain their legitimating efficiency within more stringent budgetary requirements;
- agencies struggle to balance European and international challenges;
- agencies are trying to satisfy, an often burdensome and counterproductive, accountability regime.
Three options to address these challenges have been identified by TARN during the networking and discoursing with its stakeholders. Short-term reforms in three key areas appear possible and necessary:
- Budgetary control: Agencies should be subject to a performance based budgetary review, which focuses more clearly on output rather than process.
- Co-ordination of both internal (European) and external (international) activities: rather than endorsing the Common Approach on EU agencies, which foresees the possibility of merging existing agencies, TARN discussions point to synergies and efficiency gains that might be unlocked through greater co-ordination of agency activities, especially at international level.
- Reviewing accountability mechanisms: agencies currently suffer an acute accountability overload which impacts upon their efficiency. TARN discussions indicate that accountability mechanisms have become a pro forma process which in some cases detracts from the purpose of accountability in legitimising agency operation. TARN urges a redefinition of applicable accountability mechanisms that reflect a common understanding on the agencies’ role and purpose in the EU administration and which are based on principles of transparency, granting effective means of review and ensure both effective discharge of duties as well as protection of individual rights.
The full text of the Brief can be found here.
TARN Statement on EU Agencies Reform
TARN’s Statement on EU Agencies reform addresses the legitimacy of EU agencies and agencification on a more fundamental level. The TARN network has set out to find a longer-term constitutional perspective upon the appropriate place and framing of EU agencies within the Treaties and the operation of the EU institutional system. This is a pressing issue, since the EU administration has so far been ‘agencified’ in absence of sound anchoring of the EU agencies in the EU Treaties leading to large heterogeneity of EU agencies, and numerous accountability concerns resulting in ‘overloaded’ and sometimes confusing set of control mechanisms.
Above all, where agencies have emerged as a form of EU ‘civil service’ with a useful and appropriate role in the development and even implementation of European policies and programmes, a pressing need has arisen to clarify the nature of agency mandates, and to secure the agency-instrument within the Treaties. If agencies are to retain their legitimacy as impartial bodies of expertise, they must first be supplied with clear and comprehensive mandates, even where those mandates detail a political programme. By the same token, however, agencies must be given their own source of formal legitimacy through their recognition in and regulation by the European treaties.
In particular, five key recommendations may be made. Unlike the TARN policy recommendations, they are not necessarily feasible to implement in the short-term. In constitutional terms however they suggest themselves as necessary.
Recommendation 1: Legal basis
The absence of EU agencies notably in the system of Articles 290-291 TFEU raises concerns in relation to the nature of the EU executive and the possible conflicting roles of the Commission and agencies as well as accountability and measures of control on agencies.
A legal basis should be inscribed in the Treaties, preferably in Part 6, Title I – Institutional Provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, so as to provide an enabling clause to create and empower EU agencies. Similarly to Article 291(3) TFEU it could also contain a legal basis for the adoption of a new framework instrument. It would have to refer back to Articles 290-291 TFEU and explain the role that EU agencies can play. Conversely Articles 290-291 TFEU should be changed so as to reflect and explain the role that EU agencies can play.
Recommendation 2: Need for an overall vision laid down in a Regulation
The 2012 Common Approach should be updated and be made binding. Ideally, the new Common Approach would be an act of infra-constitutional nature (similar to the Comitology and Transparency Regulations) and should first reflect the EU’s fundamental constitutional principles which are now neglected in the Common Approach and in institutional practice: conferral, subsidiarity, proportionality and institutional balance.
Recommendation 3: Control and Accountability
The proliferation of EU agencies in the EU institutional landscape also requires a rethink of control mechanisms on agencies and underlines the need for a set of general principles that govern EU agencies.
This again underlines that the Common Approach should be revisited. This should ideally be done through a Regulation or alternatively by means of an interinstitutional agreement. This agreement should specifically aim:
– to define agencies
– to set up a coherent model of parliamentary scrutiny
– to formulate rules on independence from both commercial and political interests; taking into account the diversity of agencies
– to (re)structure accountability mechanisms so as to avoid overload and take into account that agencies operate at times also on behalf of Member States so as to formulate accountability accordingly
– to underline the importance of stakeholder involvement, but leave flexibility as regards the means of involvement depending on the nature and mandate of the agencies and the relevant policy areas while providing for appropriate mechanisms of independence from commercial and political interests as stated above
– to put fully self-financed agencies, as EU public bodies, under budgetary control and to consider whether (part of) their gain should (not) flow back to the EU budget.
Recommendation 4: Heterogeinity
It is time to address the issue of heterogeneity of EU agencies in a manner that will genuinely assist them to continue performing important missions in the EU system. While structures, functions and mandates should depend on policy needs, which may vary from one policy areas to another, the current degree of heterogeneity does not reflect genuine differences in policy needs. This exacerbates the problem of accountability and legitimacy. Different structures not only make it harder to establish one unitary mechanism of accountability, such as an EU Administrative Procedures Regulation, but at the same time show the need of a more horizontal approach, e.g. prescribing uniform but lean accountability mechanisms for all agencies. Clustering certain of the agencies’ services and functions should be considered as a first possible step in tackling the heterogeneity overload, but further debates and actions are needed.
Recommendation 5: Dialogue
It is necessary to hold regular dialogue sessions between representatives of agencies, Commission, Parliament, Council, Member States, stakeholders and academics to discuss topics of concern and research findings in a Chatham house setting.
The full text of the TARN Statement can be found here.
If you would like to learn more about the TARN activities, the activity report of TARN for the years 2015-2018 can be found here. TARN will continue to organise conferences, workshops and dialogues and will report on and analyse developments concerning EU agencies and institutional innovation on this blog.