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Identifying Centrality in the Expert Groups: Transparency and the Electronic Registers

Mark Field

Based on the assumption that technology can deliver greater transparency and strengthen civil society, this paper assesses the relationship between recent transparency enhancements and the potential that such enhancements generate for the improved technical effectiveness and democratic responsiveness of the institutions concerned. By decoupling transparency from scrutiny, the paper explores the theoretical mechanisms through which differing types of transparency increase public confidence, legitimacy and democratic participation and considers whether accountability is more effectively achieved through transparency or actual scrutiny.The paper applies this question to the case of the Commission's expert groups. Acknowledging that , the interplay between this expertise and the public at large is a crucial part of policy making, the Commission's website hosts an electronic register of these groups. The groups advise at all stages of the policy process, from the preparation of legislative proposals and initiatives to the monitoring of the implementation process. The Commission publishes guidelines and rules on the composition of the groups and the nature of information that should be made publicly available. The paper tests the extent to which the groups are complying with these rules in two aspects: gender makeup and the availability of relveant documentation. On gender composition, we find low levels of compliance with Commission guidelines whilst published information varies widely across DGs. The paper argues that, for the expert groups, transparency is not sufficient to ensure compliance with regulations suggesting that a robust scrutiny process, rather than simply access to information, is needed to hold power to account.

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