Your voice counts – about public consultations

o konsultacjach społecznych

What is public consultation?

Public consultation is a dialogue between representatives of authorities (local, municipal, provincial, central) and residents/stakeholders. Its purpose is to gather the opinions of those interested in the subject, and then, based on them, the authorities will make optimal, consensual decisions on issues affecting citizens and the surrounding environment.

In the process of public consultation, it is important to learn about the needs, perspectives, opportunities and constraints of various stakeholders, and then seek environmentally, socially, economically and economically justified solutions (actions) to realize the identified needs through some concessions from both sides.

It should also be noted that public consultations do not give residents a direct influence on decisions, as these are ultimately made by the authorities. Nonetheless, they allow people to have their say on the issue being consulted, and thus can point decision-makers to a different point of view. Therefore, it is worth participating in them and expressing your view/opinion.

The difference between consulting and informing

Consultation is a two-way communication: authority ↔ stakeholders; the local/government authority asks for stakeholders’ opinions, and stakeholders communicate needs, priorities, etc.

Informing is one-way communication: authority → stakeholders; authority provides stakeholders with knowledge of planned and implemented activities.

Legal basis for public consultation

The basic legal act is Art. 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, which states that supreme power belongs to the people and it is the people who exercise it, either directly or through representatives elected by popular vote. In addition, Art. 54, 61 and 74, set standards for access to information about the actions of public authorities.

The direct legal basis for conducting public consultations in local government are the provisions of the following laws:

  • In terms of public consultation with residents:
  • Law of March 8, 1990. On municipal government;
  • Law of June 5, 1998. On county government;
  • Law of June 5, 1998. On provincial government.

At the same time, it should be added that the rules and procedures for holding public consultations with residents are determined by resolutions of the councils of the relevant local government units (municipalities, cities, counties, provinces).

  • On public consultation with NGOs:
  • Law of April 24, 2003. On public benefit activities and volunteerism.

The rules for consulting drafts of local laws with NGOs must be obligatorily included in the relevant resolution of the local government’s decision-making body (Article 5(5) of the aforementioned).

The main obligations of government bodies regarding the public consultation process are set forth in the Rules of Procedure of the Council of Ministers.

Public consultations conducted at the central level by the executive and legislative branches refer to work on draft government documents, i.e. Laws, regulations, strategies, programs, plans, government positions to parliamentary bills.

In the case of parliamentary bills, it is possible to hold a public hearing, the procedure for which is specified in the Regulations of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland.

In addition, the rules and procedures for public consultation of individual planning documents are governed by separate regulations, e.g. consultation of water management or flood risk management plans is governed by the provisions of the Law of July 20, 2017. – Water Law.

Aarhus Convention

Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, done in Aarhus on June 25, 1998. (Aarhus Convention), guarantees the public:

  • The right of access to environmental information held by state authorities;
  • The right to participate in decisions made by these authorities if they affect the environment;
  • The right to review and legally challenge decisions affecting the environment.

The above three “pillars” of the Aarhus Convention were adopted by the European Union in 2003. Under two directives:

  • Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information;
  • Directive 2003/35/EC providing for public participation in environmental plans and programs.

Both documents contain provisions on access to justice, the third of the aforementioned. “pillars.”

Public consultation in water management planning

Public participation in water management planning means allowing stakeholders to influence the final shape of the plans, as well as earlier, at various stages of the working processes. This is one of the rights of the Aarhus Convention that can be exercised by all citizens of the European Union.

Public participation depends on one of the rights of the Aarhus Convention, which is public information. For example, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) calls for the public to be informed about water management plans in river basin districts, which is the implementation of the rights mentioned above. The WFD and national law also oblige authorities to carry out public consultations in the development of planning documents under the directive.

Stakeholders in water management planning can express their opinions at several stages.

First, at the stage of preparing individual elements of plans/programs, e.g., as part of the process of developing a river basin management plan, a flood risk management plan or a marine water protection program – the stages and elements of consultation, along with a time schedule, are defined by the provisions of the Law of July 20, 2017. Water Law.

Second, at the stage of developing the strategic environmental assessment of plans/programs – in connection with the obligation under the Law of October 3, 2008. On sharing information about the environment and its protection, public participation in environmental protection and environmental impact assessments.

Third, at the stage of the legislative process of adopting and publishing the legal act introducing the plan or program in question.

Your vote counts!

In order for public consultations to be effective, certain rules must be followed:

  • Conducting consultations early enough, when there are no binding, foregone conclusions yet;
  • effective information on the draft document and the consultation process itself;
  • Listening to stakeholder voices/needs;
  • impartial, objective consideration of submitted applications and comments;
  • multi-stage consultation;
  • Openness of the decision – the public party should be informed of the decision taken after the consultation.

Public consultations, in addition to involving stakeholders in the issue, give them a voice, increase knowledge and awareness of public affairs, as well as allowing them to identify with the surrounding environment, place.

WISE

The European Water Information System (WISE) was launched in 2007, through the provision of an online water portal. In subsequent years, WISE has been updated to respond to needs:

  • users from EU institutions or other national environmental entities;
  • water scientists – WISE facilitates access to reference documents and thematic data that can be downloaded for further analysis;
  • general public – illustrates a wide range of water-related information through interactive maps, charts and indicators.

More information is available at: WISE – European Water Information System.

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