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During this session ACELG will host two lectures on democratic challenges the EU is currently facing, including the accommodation of citizen participation and granting free access to documents and information. In her guest lecture Prof. Päivi Leino-Sandberg (University of Helsinki) focuses on the European Union’s “democratic malaise,” which has been long recognized, but for which an effective cure has proved elusive. Eógan Hickey (University of Amsterdam) will present his analysis of various access to documents regimes in EU risk regulation, and the extent to which the application of those regimes lives up to the democratic principles set out in EU Treaties.

Event details of EU Democratic Deficits? Two challenging views
Date 3 July 2019
Time 15:00 -17:00


Disruptive Democracy: Keeping EU Citizens in a Box (Päivi Leino-Sandberg)

In her guest lecture Prof. Päivi Leino-Sandberg (University of Helsinki) focuses on the European Union’s “democratic malaise,” which has been long recognized, but for which an effective cure has proved elusive. The EU shares many of its contemporary democratic challenges with its member states, but these challenges are compounded by other types of democratic deficits that are more specific to the Union. The general response to democratic deficits and legitimacy crises has been to invent new ways to increase citizen involvement.

For the EU, this response came with the Treaty of Lisbon (2009). Two key initiatives that spearheaded this push towards more citizen participation: opening up the EU legislative process through ‘the widest possible’ access to legislative documents and the European Citizen Initiative (ECI). Päivi Leino argues that despite the political proclamations professing the virtues of citizen participation, the Union bodies and officials in charge of regulating the practical channels for such participation remain, intentionally or instinctively, resistant. Rather than recognizing citizens as the main actors in democracy, institutional practice demonstrates how the Union machinery appears to perceive citizen participation as a nuisance, unavoidable but fundamentally undesirable, to be contained and made harmless. To be meaningful, citizen participation should have the capacity to actually frame the Union institutions’ policy agendas, confront their existing preferences, and influence policy outcomes. A key aspect of the EU’s democratic deficit is the perception that decisions are taken by an insular elite within the Brussels bubble, with little interest in engaging with citizens. The EU institutions’ attitudes towards the forms of participatory democracy do little to alleviate this perception.

Documents and Democracy - the Uneven Patchwork of Access to Documents in EU Risk Regulation (Eógan Hickey)

This contribution analyses the interaction of various access to documents regimes in EU risk regulation, and how the application of those regimes in this field lives up to the democratic principles set out in the Treaties. The rise of risk regulation and agencification at EU level call for new avenues of democratic legitimation, of which openness, transparency and participation form key parts. Problems in the current access to documents regimes exist both in law and in Agency practice, as exemplified by the recent controversy concerning EFSA’s refusal to grant access to information underpinning its controversial decision to recommend reapproval of the pesticide glyphosate, which some experts believe to be carcinogenic. The paper examines the application of different legal sources of access to documents to the EU’s three risk regulation agencies – EMA, EFSA and ECHA, and aims to show strengths and deficiencies in access rights resulting from both secondary EU law and its interpretation by the Court of Justice. To illustrate the scope of divergence in access rights and gain a comprehensive yet focussed picture of the access to documents landscape, it concentrates on two important exceptions to access  – the exception for protection of commercial interests and protection of the Agency’s ‘space to think’.  The project considers the divergences in access rights which result from agency and procedure-specific regulations. It then examines the divergences which result from the case law of the Court of Justice and the Aarhus Regulation on access to environmental information. It finally measures this access landscape against the benchmark of the democratic principles enshrined in the Treaties, and considers whether proposals for reform in the case of EFSA may better meet these democratic goals.

The Speakers

Päivi Leino-Sandberg is Professor of Transnational European Law, University of Helsinki, and Deputy Director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights where she currently leads two research projects relating to the use of legal expertise in EU law making, transparency and participation. She specializes in EU institutional and constitutional law, and has published in the areas of European administrative law, Economic and Monetary Union and EU external relations. She has previously worked as Academy of Finland Research Fellow and Professor of International and European Law at UEF Law School. In addition, she has held visiting positions at the European University Institute, NYU Law School and Sciences Po. Before returning full time to the academia in 2015, she worked for over 10 years as a legal adviser for the Finnish government participating in numerous EU and international negotiations and Court cases.


Eógan Hickey is an LLM student in European Law at the University of Amsterdam. His academic interests lie primarily in the areas of European constitutional and administrative law. He graduated from University College Cork in 2016 with a Bachelor in Law (International) having previously spent a period on exchange at the University of Montreal, Canada. Before commencing his LLM he worked for eighteen months as a judicial research assistant at the Court of Appeal and High Court in Dublin, Ireland, working primarily in the areas of criminal, extradition, immigration and asylum law. His lecture is based on an individual research project he conducted on behalf of the ACELG.


This event will take place at Amsterdam Law School, Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, building REC A, room A7.23.