Comparative public law in Europe
On December 16th 2016, the Essex School of Law hosted the second workshop on “Comparative Public Law and European Legal Identity” thanks to the generous financial support provided by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award. The workshop took place in Brussels at the University Foundation. This follows on a previous workshop organized in Essex on September 29th-30th September 2016. A further conference is scheduled to be held at the British Academy (London) on 24th March 2017. The aim of this project is to bring together a group of young scholars keen to develop a research agenda in comparative public law built on exchanges with non-academics. The workshop was convened by Dr Yseult Marique (Essex) and mentored by Professor John Bell (Cambridge). The workshop was organized around four main sessions. Two panels featured experienced discussants sharing their experiences with the use of comparative public law by non-academics and with engaging with non-academics. Two further panels consisted in presentations by early career researchers presenting their engagement strategy. Conclusions were then drawn both in terms of a research agenda for comparative public law in Europe and about strategies for engaging with non-academic audiences. This report briefly presents the panels and their stimulating discussions.
The first panel entitled Practitioner and academic perspectives on engagement featured presentations by Professor Ian Harden (Sheffield, Secretary General of the European Ombudsman (2006-2015) : Comparative administrative law and good administration – Codes, model rules and legislation) and Dr Hanna Schröder (CJEU, legal secretary, Chambers of AG Kokott : Contracts passed by EU institutions in administrative matters – Identification of practical problems and development of legal solutions within the ReNEUAL-Model-Rule-Project). In his presentation, Professor Harden explained the background to the development and publication of Model Rules of Administrative Procedure by the Research Network on European Administrative Law (ReNEUAL). His presentation illuminated clearly the crucial role of the European Ombudsman in identifying principles of good administration as well as the different but complementary views of the Ombudsman, the European Parliament and academics on the utility and significance of the Model Rules. Dr Schröder’s presentation followed up nicely as it illustrated one aspect of the ReNEUAL project, namely the field of public contracts. Dr Schröder showed how the academic discussions held in the ReNEUAL framework, the engagement with practitioners and the assessment of legal material made visible legal issues arising in public contracts. The prominence of these issues is shown by cases being recently brought in the Court of Justice on these matters. How much of the academic discussions will feed into the Court’s decisions will be a fascinating development to follow in the months ahead.
The second panel entitled Interactive mapping – Known and unknown engagement opportunities featured a presentation by Dr Mary Guy (Lancaster: Engagement with non-academic actors – Sectoral regulation in Dutch and English Healthcare) followed by small group discussions. In her presentation, Dr Guy suggested the use of a SWOT analysis (Strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) to assess engagement strategies in the short, medium and long-term. She put three questions forward for discussions: 1) how to gain contact with “new” agencies / audiences and how to maintain existing contact over (long) periods of time; 2) how to reconcile engagement with non-academic audiences with generating impact; 3) how do non-academic actors perceive engagement opportunities with academics.
The participants broke up in smaller groups to reflect on these questions, before coming back together to share the fruit of the exchanges. Among the thoughts-provoking points explored, were the following:
The third panel entitled Unpacking engagement featured presentations by Dr Naomi Creutzfeldt (Westminster/Oxford: The ups and downs of building trust: narratives of engaging stakeholders in a research project), Dr Sarah Nason (Bangor: Welsh administrative justice – Engaging non-academic stakeholders with comparative perspectives on designing and operating an administrative justice system) and Dr Carlo Panara (John Moore Liverpool: Action research – Identifying and synthetizing best practice and promoting change). Dr Creutzfeldt explained her engagement with public and economic ombudsman in England, France and Germany and how she built trust relationships with them in order to research empirically users’ expectations when lodging complaints. This led her to imaginatively reflect on comparison across countries as well as between public and private sectors. Dr Nason is mapping the landscape of administrative justice in Wales. Thanks to her research and direct extensive interactions with the many administrative justice bodies in Wales, she is actively rising the awareness among the actors themselves of their contribution to Welsh administrative justice. Dr Panara explained to us the concepts underlying action research, ie learning from practice (action) through practice (action) in a rigorous way. This approach can be used to identify good practice, to improve practice extend good practices in new areas, and/or to assess the change that research brings to practice. He gave two examples of this: a) good practice guidance for psychiatric reports for sentencing; b) recommendations to promote accountability and transparency of the European Offices of the English local authorities.
The fourth panel entitled Interactive mapping – brainstorming the engagement interactions featured a presentation by Oliver Butler (Cambridge: Engagement, researcher identity and European data protection – Developing the four-approach framework for the public-private divide in information law) followed by a group discussion. Oliver flagged up a range of issues with engaging with non-academic actors in these Brexit times, such as 1) how can we influence the views and ideas of practitioners who already have their own views or how can we make an external voice being heard in a highly political context; 2) the unpredictability of stakeholders’ concerns; 3) keeping the research on time and track without detracting it from being robust and in-depth while being tempted to catch up with the news. He put three questions to discussion: 1) how to coordinate publications and engagement activities? 2) how to identify engagement opportunities in good time? 3) how to use and promote a researcher identity?
From the discussions, the following hints emerge:
As conclusions to the workshop, Professor John Bell (Cambridge: Comparative public law in Europe – mapping the research ahead) and Dr Yseult Marique (Essex/Speyer: Towards the conference and beyond) suggested some Reflexive steps. Professor Bell mapped the distinctiveness of comparative public law in terms of institutional settings and involvement of users in the research. Regarding the institutional settings, four areas accounts for the characteristics of rules: the personal; the process of decision-making; accountability mechanisms; organisational dynamics. These factors helps to contextualise rules and to explain how they are working. Among the users, are third parties (with a public or private interest) as well as public actors. In her dealings with these users, the researcher may need to distinguish between consultancy and research. In the first case, the researcher provides a solution to users, whose cooperation is normally a given. Sometimes, she also acts as a critical friend, helping users to reach a solution. In the latter case, the researcher follows her own agenda, or an agenda that she keeps adjusting according to her findings. Then, cooperation from users needs to be worked at and maintained (or not) all along. Dr Marique reviewed the workshop discussions in framing some of the main points surfacing from the stimulating exchanges with a Kolb learning circle articulated around the following steps:
All these steps can enrich each other. They all have some traps (eg: maintaining trust is a two-way process between the researcher and the non-academic actor) but also are rich with ever-expanding opportunities for deepening research and for the researcher to be co-creator of her own research object. A fascinating development to look forward to!
From this second workshop emerges a fascinating picture of the ever-evolving strategies pursued by researchers to engage with non-academic actors as well as of opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other experiences. We look very much to our further discussions at the conference in London, on March 24th 2017 (draft programme to follow: click here).