1.1 Background

The European Union is one of the most organized entities in the world. It is comprised of 27 member states located mostly in the Europe continent. The founding countries include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The motivating factors that resulted from the formation of the European Union were political and economic stability. It was particularly important after the Second World War that severely affected Europe’s economic stability. By joining their efforts, the EU member states amassed ideas and unity that could help them withstand economic and political upheavals. After the foundation of the European Union, other countries have been joining it, thus increasing its coverage in the Europe continent.

As from 2009, the core values of the EU have included promoting freedom, democracy, human dignity, equality, rule of law and upholding human rights. Members of the European Union are governed by the rule of law, which is the underlying principle that facilitated massive development and success of their operations.  The authority for formulating laws is partly shared between the EU Commission and individual member countries. The operations of the legislatures are guided by institutions and bodies that have power in their specific fields of jurisdiction. The institutions involved in formulation of the European Union’s legislation include the European Parliament that represents member states’ citizens, the Council of the European Union that represents governments of individual member states, and finally the European Commission that oversees the upholding of the European Union’s interests.  The European Commission has the mandate to formulate new legislation, which is discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and the European Council.  After the legislation is adopted, the European Commission together with the Court of Justice oversees the implementation of the law by both member countries and the European Union.

The guiding rules and regulations on jurisdictions of each level of institution are formulated and agreed upon by top representatives of the European Union members, such as  presidents or prime ministers. But before being adopted, they must be ratified by parliaments of member states and the European Union Parliament. The law is then approved as a treaty that is binding on every member and should be respected by all the members.

The most important factor in law enforcement is understanding of the law by the people it affects. Therefore, it has to be availed to the population in a manner that will enable them to understand it without ambiguity. In this vein, the EU legislation must be accessible to the people deemed to be affected by these laws. There are a number of challenges facing accessibility of the EU legislation. The need to address them is explained by the imperativeness of accessing the EU legislation.  

1.2 Imperativeness of Accessing the EU Legislation

Ignorance is not a defense in a court of law. Therefore, it is important for every person or corporate body to acquaint themselves with the legislations regulating their operations. Given that the EU is comprised of a number of countries that interrelate in business and other sectors, the complexity of the legislation can pose challenges to many people and nations. However, understanding the legislations will greatly reduce the level of conflicts that may arise due to ignorance or even ambiguity of the law. Understanding of these legislations will be facilitated by their availability and accessibility to the media. Furthermore, the fact that the European Union has 23 official languages makes it necessary to harmonize the legislation by translating it into all the official languages.

Realizing the importance of making legislation easily accessible, the EU has endeavored to maximize the ease of its accessibility. The first attempt to enhance its accessibility was made in 1992. The reason behind this motive was to enable citizens to understand the legislations. It was noted that there were conflicts in the business setup due to complexity of the laws. Therefore, the European Union seeks to simplify the laws and make them clearer. These efforts resulted in the adoption of the Birmingham Declaration. In 1997, the European Union made another step towards enhancing accessibility of legislatures. The functions of the three institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council - were clearly delineated. The three institutions were to “formulate by common accord course of action for improving the value of drafting of community legislation and follow those strategies when considering proposals for community legislation or draft legislation, taking the internal organizational measures they deem necessary to ensure that these guidelines are properly applied and make their best efforts to accelerate the codification of legislative texts.

The declarations resulted in the establishment of three guidelines meant to promote the understanding of the EU legislation. These guidelines state that:

  1. Community legislative acts shall be drafted clearly, simply and precisely.
  2. The drafting of community acts shall be appropriate to the type of act concerned and, in particular, to whether or not it is binding (regulation, directive, decision, recommendation or other act).
  3. The drafting of acts shall take account of the persons to whom they are intended to apply, with a view to enabling them to identify their rights and obligations unambiguously, and of the persons responsible for putting the acts into effect.”

The most remarkable move in enhancing accessibility took place in 2003. The EU took a number of steps meant to necessitate improvement of procedure for drafting legislation. By taking these steps, the EU also aimed to increase transparency of its legislation, reduce its bulkiness and streamline it. The steps were also aimed at ensuring that the affected parties and people were in a better position to appreciate and internalize the legislations. As a result, easy access to legislation will make it much easier for the European Union to make and pass laws.

1.3 Presentation of Legislation

1.3.1 Journal

The European Union has an official journal that is published on a regular basis. The journal is one of the ways for the European Union to present its new legislations, such as amendments. The mandate for releasing the journal belongs to the Publication Office. The office has increasingly advanced the mode of accessing the journal from print to online copy.  However, online materials are classified as non-authentic. To differentiate the European Union’s publication from the other, the Publication Office created a unique gate to access the journal and other information pertaining to the European Union for free and in a reliable manner. 

To ensure that more people are involved in the process of improving the European Union’s functions, the website also encourages visitors to post information regarding the European Union’s laws and operations. This way, people will be able to contribute their opinion and improve accessibility of legislation. Through the website, citizens are able to access consolidated texts of legislation, original acts and all amendments, an online version of the official journal, international agreements, case law, legislation, unfinished legislation, search engines to legislation and related measures and a website on legislative drafting, treaties, parliamentary questions, as well as a database that offers information regarding institutional decision-making process. It is mandatory that any drafted legislation should be published in the official journal in the languages of all countries covered by the law. The European Union’s policies require a draft law to be formulated in a clear and simple manner, and be available an easily recognizable form. To avoid complexity of the publication, texts are provided in the form of numbers. The first numerical figure represents regulations adopted by the European Union, the second sequence is where the European Union’s directives are delineated, while the third series complies with the decision agreed upon and ratified by the EU members.

However, this format of law presentation remains confusing for laymen. The main ambiguity happens in the coding of directives of different institutions, such as the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. For instance, there are cases when similar codes with different arrangements are used to communicate different directives. For example, Decision No 283/1999/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe of January 25, 1999  “that establishes a general framework for community activities in favor of consumers and Commission Decision 1999/283/EC of 12 April 1999 “concerning animal health conditions and veterinary certification for imports of fresh meat from certain African countries. 

Website

Apart from the official journal, there are also websites that provide information on the legislation and date-to-date operation of the EU. For example, europe.eu website provides well-organized and topically arranged information, which makes it easy to access the desired information pertaining to the European Union. Despite the fact that the information is often updated, the website is not legally binding. The legislative process is availed online, since most of the information involving the legislative process and agreed upon strategic outlines is provided by respective institutions in the form of diverse databases. For instance, the European Parliament publicises its sessions and offers a chance to discuss the legislation online. The main drawback of the website is the lack of the information in all languages, so that every citizen does not feel discriminated against.

1.4 Obstacles to Accessing Legislation

1.4.1 Complexity of Publication

The complexity of publication whereby individuals find themselves confused with the numeric is one of the major obstacles in accessing the right information. The official journal is divided into two sets, such as numerical and lettered ones. The lettered section is comprised of three series designated by three letters - C, S, and L. The numerical series is composed of the first, second and third series. Each of the series has a specific unit of legislation that it represents. Understanding the codes becomes a problem and an obstacle that inhibits easy accessibility of legislation. The layman finds it confusing to go through all the codes and comprehend them. The complexity increases with subdivision of the lettered series. For instance the C series is further branched into CA (contains information on the European Union’s announcements and advertisements) and CE (has information on directions to accessing online data on legislation process).  L series is in its turn divided into sections I, II and III, each dealing with different information. Section one deals with legislative acts, section II contains non-legislative acts, while section III presents corrigendum and other acts.

Laypeople also find it difficult to comprehend long titles of cases. Some titles are too long, which further complicates accessibility. In her argument, Ms. Annemarie Huber-Hotz, Swiss Chancellor, lamented the fact that the long titles of the EU acts and cases remain a major drawback for full implementation of laws. Citizens of the EU member states find it conflicting and challenging to grasp the information communicated in these publications. In support of her criticism, she quoted a title that was comprised of a total of 92 words.

1.4.2 Complexity of Languages

As mentioned earlier, the European Union has 23 official languages. It is also expected that legislation is available in all the languages to avoid conflicts and enhance understanding. If legislation is nor availed in one of the languages due to delay in publication, the Council of Europe will be held responsible. In cases where such acts are violated, the accused is held innocent. Therefore, the European Union has to be prompt in availing legislation. To illustrate, a Greek merchant (Case C-370/96) was once accused of violating an EU act. However, since the act was not available in his own language, the accused was found innocent by the judicial.

Moreover, due to the complexity of the languages, a set of legislature is to be discussed and agreed upon by different linguists and interpreters. It must be established that legislation communicates the required information in all the 23 languages. With interpretation, acts are liable to deviate from the main idea that it was to address.  The possibility is that there will be deviation in the interpretation of the law among laymen. Therefore, this affects the accessibility of the rightful information communicated in a draft. 

1.4.3 Complexity in Legislation Drafting

The institution responsible for drafting the legislation is the European Commission. As stated earlier, the European Commission is comprised of members that represent the interests of the European Union as a whole. The European Commission is composed of experts in a wide range of fields who are not necessarily lawyers.  They are not experts in law-making, hence the making of laws is complicated.  Lack of specific individuals who will be responsible for drafting legislation increases difficulties of accessing legislation. In many cases, experts involved in drafting of legislation may be using a second language to formulate drafts. Therefore, they are forced to rely on interpreters or other people who may not even be citizens of the EU member countries. Resulting drafts are, therefore, more or less inappropriate in addressing the problem at hand, since they have been poorly designed.

The complexity of their duties increases their difficulties in determining the boundaries involved in the legislation process. In case something occurs that is not addressed in the current legislation, experts believe there should be no continuity and do not add it to the current legislation. Or when something happens that is not properly addressed in the implementing legislation, they still see a reason to put it in the directive notes. However, the language of law is somewhat different from the one used in narratives and aimed at explaining things in simple words. The dictionary and punctuation matter a lot in law-making. However, this is not the case in literature, since words are sometimes omitted or punctuation errors are overlooked.

1.4.4 Stability Factor

The impact of legislation is gauged by its stability. People need to have unobstructed access to the law at the right time and offered enough time to grasp information intended to be communicated by the law. However, hasty revisions of laws cause uneasiness among people and hinder their proper implementation. Some of the EU laws are frequently changed without giving citizens time to grasp the information. Commenting on the importance of stability of laws, James Madison, who is referred to as the icon in the development of the American constitution,  said, “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?”

The main reason why amendments in the EU legislation are so frequent lies in the fact that laws have to be addressed in different languages. The imperfections in the legislation are noticed more frequently than in other international legislation. It is only when a law is implemented that effects can be noticed and flaws identified. However, if the flaws are so frequent that they influence the implementation of the law, conflicts inevitably arise. The procedure for correction of the EU legislation requires the law to be corrected and reprinted in the official journal. The original act is still availed to the citizens in a corrigendum. Two versions of the same act cause confusion among citizens. In cases when an amended act still has faults, there is even greater confusion than expected. Therefore, this becomes a core factor affecting accessibility of the rightful legislation. According to EUR-Lex, a good example of an act that has been corrected a countless number of times is the European Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 of October 22, 2007, which “establishes a common organization of agricultural markets with specific provisions for certain agricultural products (Single CMO Regulation” which has been revised nine times in a row, and yet stands a good chance of being revised again .

1.4.5 Dispersion of Law

Dispersion refers to a state when acts supporting a certain fact are widely scattered within a legal system. Assembling these acts and correlating them to offer a sound decision becomes strenuous for the layman who has no interest in going through all the EU acts. The complexity of the legal rules structure in the EU can be seen in a hierarchical manner in which the main rules of the system are created by the EU treaties. The second in the hierarchy of the EU legislation are some basic rules created through acts established jointly by the European Parliament and the European Council and in accordance with the terms of Article 289 TFEU. The acts are mostly in accordance with the events that need to be addressed by the EU.

Other acts are also spread within the same act, thus further complicating the easiness of access of legislation. In these cases, acts are drafted pursuant to attachments supporting their functionality.

1.4.6 Ambiguity in Understanding

The different idioms within the EU affect interpretation and hence accessibility of laws. The European Union has 23 official languages and does not give special preference or superiority to one language over the others. To avoid conflicts in interpretation, the EU offers interpretations of the technical terms used in the legislation. However, a wide variety of acts with differing terms can be confusing to common citizens. Moreover, the European Union has no single act regulating interpretation. Consequently, the effects and the status of the definitions within the EU legislation end up not being regulated by any legislative authority, much less solved by the jurisprudence of the EU. This conflict is depicted in Case C-34/04 addressing the failure of member states to hold compulsive conventions. The resulting effect is that most of the nations and institutions end up creating another unnecessary definition, which diverges from those that have been given before. In some cases, they draft acts from translations that suit them.

In conclusion, the core factor responsible for the difficulties in accessing the EU legislation is different official languages of the European Union. Every complication that is being addressed traces its roots back to the idiom factor.

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