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Unveiling EU Administrative Discretion

The Role of Law and Good Administration

Funded by the NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, this research project (2013 - 2016) examined the role of law in controlling discretion of EU administrative actors – Commission, Council, comitology committees, agencies – and assessed whether good administration standards can limit their power.

Administrative actions need to be based in law and abide by it. In democratic systems, this is considered critical to ensure citizens’ liberties. Yet, administrations decide on complex and important issues – e.g. the acceptable health risks of a medicine. Legal instruments are often ill-adapted to control such decisions. Law is meant to constrain administrative power, but there are strong indications that it does not. If law’s guarantees no longer hold, arbitrariness may follow. The problem of unrestrained administrative power is particularly salient in the EU, because of lack of awareness of EU administrative power.

This project examines the role of law in controlling discretion of EU administrative actors – Commission, Council, comitology committees, agencies – and assess whether good administration standards can limit their power. The research focuses on three policy fields where legal ‘bite’ tends to be weak: pharmaceuticals, financial services, water policy. All three are economically and socially crucial to the Netherlands.

 Hitherto research has had two main focuses: external/ex-post controls of the EU administration and legal rules of procedure. This innovative project examines the limits of current controls from within the EU administration, on the basis of its decision-making processes. It provides an innovative study on the exercise of discretion by the EU administration and construct a normative framework to assess current practices.

The project intended to generate better knowledge on the role of law in controlling administrative discretion in the EU and on the possible contribution of the principle of good administration to redressing these limits. It formulates recommendations on how administrative discretion can better be controlled and limited, as to preserve citizens’ rights while public interests are achieved. 

Activities

Organization

This project was carried out by Associate Professor Dr Joana Mendes from 2013 to 016. It was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) under its VENI-grant scheme, designed for researchers with a maximum of three years after having completed their doctorates.  In its report, the NWO was very positive about Joana Mendes' publication record and track record and praised her as a 'very active researcher'. Her proposal is considered to be 'highly relevant and original'.