Leiden Law Blog

Efficiency and transparency: competing demands on the legislative process?

Posted on by Hans-Martien ten Napel and Maarten van Nijendaal in Public Law
Efficiency and transparency: competing demands on the legislative process?

In our rapidly changing society, the legislative process has to cope with increasing demands. In particular, speeding up the Dutch legislative process appears to be a pressing topic, at least to the Rutte I and II cabinets.

A legislative procedure which aims at ‘speed for speed’s sake’ is undesirable, however. Such a procedure might well lead to another ‘Harmonization Act’, which by at least one commentator has been called the worst act ever made in the Netherlands. Therefore, increasing the speed of the procedure should not be regarded as the principal goal, but rather as a side effect, albeit a welcome one.

Enhancing the efficiency of the legislative process is one potentially suitable way to create this side effect. Whereas merely speeding up the legislative process is not necessarily concerned with the quality of laws, however difficult it may be to measure this, an efficient process is about obtaining the optimal result using the available resources.

Transparency

Enhancing efficiency is not the only demand placed on the legislative process, however. As the Council for Public Administration has pointed out, in a horizontalised society citizens want the political decision-making process in general to be transparent. This also means that during the legislative process in particular they wish to be kept informed and to have at least the option of actually participating in it themselves.

It is precisely this combination of demands on efficiency and transparency that is challenging, because they could theoretically be competing demands in the legislative process. Whereas more efficiency can lead to a faster procedure, which the cabinet wants, increasing transparency can have the opposite effect.

Comparative research

Last year, Leiden University conducted comparative research on whether the efficiency of the Dutch legislative procedure for parliamentary acts could indeed be enhanced. The research, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Security and Justice, compared the Dutch procedure with the achievements of legislative processes in several other European countries.

Interestingly, this research does not confirm the perception that the Dutch legislative process is slow and cumbersome. For example, the average length of the procedure (approximately two years) is about the same as in Finland (between two and three years) and the United Kingdom (two years). Only in Slovenia, where ‘urgent’ and ‘accelerated’ procedures exist, can the speed of the legislative process sometimes lie considerably higher.

Improving the legislative process

Although the Dutch legislative process isn’t as slow as perceived, its efficiency can probably still be enhanced, especially in the initial stages. This could be achieved by making full use of all current ICT opportunities.

Increasing the use of these opportunities can at the same time result in more transparency in the legislative process. For example, the Finnish government had already started its first e-democracy portal in 2004 and this can therefore be a valuable source of inspiration for the Dutch government in this regard.

Interestingly, the increased transparency in the legislative system in Finland, but also in Slovenia and the United Kingdom, doesn’t seem to harm the speed of the process in these countries. Therefore, as will be discussed further during a symposium this Thursday organised by the Council on Public Administration, Netwerk Democratie and Leiden University, it might well be possible that the Dutch procedure can be improved in terms of both efficiency and transparency after all.

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