Monday, January 26, 2009

JURI committee agenda

The EU Parliament's legal affairs committee met last week to consider copyright term extension in the midst of a packed and eclectic two day agenda. Is it really possible to give serious scrutiny to complex policy considerations, including:
  • copyright term extension
  • EU legal process (e.g. possible horizontal instrument on collective redress)
  • parliamentary immunity in Poland
  • Cooperation on evidence taking between courts in EU member states in relation to civil or commercial matters
  • cross border transfers of company seats
  • a review of the copyright and related rights directive of 2001, based on the report done last year by Manuel Medina Ortega
  • a directive on auditing accounts
  • public access to EU documents
  • a white paper on damages in anti-trust cases
  • penalties for pollution by ships
  • EU citizenship
  • Consultation of employees
  • Cross border payments
  • characteristics of tractors (I kid you not)
  • motorbike registration plates (again I kid you not)
  • corporate mergers
  • debtors assets
  • monitoring the application of EU law
  • application of freedom of movement directive
  • patients rights
  • equal opportunities
  • electronic money institutions
- in the space of two days? Of course it isn't.

I've been involved in more committees with long agendas than I care to remember both whilst working in the commercial and the education sectors. In practice the business of the committee becomes a series of wars of attrition. Parties with vested interests in parts of the agenda drive their particular interests. Sometimes a member of the committee with an interest in that area of business asks an awkward question or two. Then the proposal goes through on the nod or gets thrown out. The person with the driving interest may lose but just needs the stamina to get the proposal on the agenda again in the none too distant future. Eventually the proposal goes through because the person who asked the awkward questions isn't there the next time or sleeps through that part of the agenda or the chair refuses to allow time for discussion or it gets bundled with other supposedly related business and nodded through on the grounds of efficiency etc.

Now, dedicated though they all no doubt are, I can't see how any single member of the JURI committee let alone the collective whole could, in the space of two days, cogently review, assess, evaluate, engage in substantive discussion and come to informed conclusions and recommendations on the range of items that were on that agenda.

And by the way the latter half of the second day was given over to an "exchange of views with Jiří Pospíšil, Czech Minister of Justice, on the priorities of the Czech Presidency"; so they actually had a day and a half for the substantive business listed above.

So the copyright term extension policy and the review of the 2001 copyright directive and public access to EU documents and etc. cannot possibly have been given any kind of appropriate evaluation. Here in a nutshell, I guess, is my problem with the policy-making processes in the EU. Complex processes give the illusion of serious scrutiny of legislative proposals; whereas in practice these same processes act as rubber stamping shops for those with the stamina and the funds to repeatedly peddle their own vested interests in a constant series of wars of attrition until those vested interests get written into the statute books.

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