European Administrative Space

European Administrative Space

In the field of public administration European Union does not have policy in relation to member states. Subject to EU's regulation in the administrative/institutional domain are mostly institutions needed for implementation of EU directives in certain areas (e.g. state aid, competition, consumer protection etc.) and small number of specific institutions that play horizontal role in public administration system, as public procurement. However, organization of public administration, as a system and its internal rules and methods, is not regulated by EU law through actions described in founding Treaties for other areas of public administration.

Founding Treaties, however, define certain legal principles, developed and defined further by ECJ's practice. These general principles of law are binding for all institutions and EU agencies as well as for Member States when they are implementing EU law. These principles also include public administration of Member States through practices of European Court of Justice and national administrative judiciary and through contacts and cooperation between Member States in the area of public administration (e.g. European Public Administration Network – EUPAN). Together with other principles common for reformed democratic systems within the EU, these general principles of law represent basic characteristics of European Administrative Space (EAS). EAS is evolutionary process of gradually increasing convergence between national administrative systems and administrative practices of Member States.

The sole EAS concept was taken from better known and well-developed concepts of European Economic Space, or European Judicial Space, characterized by certain level of approximation of national legislature and mutual recognition of decisions among national institutions. It is much harder, of course, to talk about the existence of common space in area of administrative law, since there is no foundation for approximation of national provisions that regulate organization of administration. In the same time, mutual recognition of actions and decisions of Member States in all other areas is dependent on mutual trust among those administrations and their institutions. That means, if certain rights of citizens are well protected in one Member State but formally or occasionally applied in other one, this kind of trust will lack, thus undermining whole concept of mutual recognition all areas of EU policy are based upon.

Connection with EU accession process

In the sense of transfer and application of acquis communautaire there are precise criteria for candidate countries mostly in sectoral policy fields (agricultural, consumer, commercial, competition or state aid). Problems with meeting the criteria are often consequence of lacking administrative and generally institutional capacities which means:

  • absence or inadequate sectoral institutions (market or sanitary inspections, agencies for agricultural payments, competition protection commissions etc.) for implementation of acquis;
  • inadequate "horizontal" administration capacities (or wider state governing system) with regard to system and organization of public administration, policy-making mechanisms, cross-sectoral coordination, control (either financial or democratic in the sense of responsibility toward citizens), etc.

Whereas the essence of the first problem of capacities is easier to note and correct, since the specifications of sectoral institutions are often contained in EU legal acts or solutions of other states are easily transposed, the second problem is much harder to perceive and correct, since it lies mostly in the core of administrative culture and state tradition. However, non-elimination of horizontal administrative problems is likely to cause problems in functioning of sectoral institutions for carrying out harmonized legislation. European Commission identified this problem and, since it has no competence nor appropriate consultative capacities in horizontal matters of administration, accredited the task of providing assistance to Member States in that area to SIGMA that operates within Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In October 2014, the European Commission (EC) adopted a new approach enshrined in its Enlargement Strategy that for the first time placed the public administration reform in the candidate countries (PAR) at the centre of its enlargement policy. In its new approach, it considers PAR, the rule of law and economic governance as three interlinked, cross-cutting issues that will determine the readiness of the candidate countries for EU membership.

In light of the strengthened focus of the EC on PAR, the OECD/SIGMA has subsequently developed the Principles of Public Administration, which outline the main requirements in the PAR area to be followed by the candidate countries during their EU integration/accession processes. Among the six key areas of reform are strategic framework of PAR, policy development and coordination, public service and human resource management, accountability, service delivery and public finance management. 

Contact person  for European Administrative Space in the European Policy Centre: Milena Lazarević

European Policy Centre (CEP) is organizing and holding trainings and lectures in the field of European Administrative Space and administrative capacities for EU accession. One-day training concept on the topic "Serbia and European Administrative Space" you can download here.

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Open Society Foundations

Regional Research Promotion Programme