Improving the quality of Commission proposals

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Commission’s impact assessment system for new proposals is failing to deliver, according to a study carried out by UK-based consultancy Evaluation Partnership and quoted by the European Policy Centre (EPC) in a new commentary.

The study found that the system suffers from inherent “weaknesses” that are undermining its effectiveness. It concluded that many impact assessments suffer from “an inappropriate approach” and are “not an effective aid to decision-making”. 

Conducting impact assessments for most new EU proposals was heralded as a “policy revolution” when the initiative was introduced for legislative and non-legislative measures five years ago, remarks the EPC. Guidelines were developed in 2003 – later revised – and an Impact Assessment Board (IAB) was created in November 2006 to improve the quality of the impact assessments, it adds. 

The objective of the system is to oblige Commission officials to consider the implications of planned policies, examine whether action is required in the first place, and look at alternative instruments to implement the action, remarks the EPC commentary. 

The policy was developed in response to mounting criticism that Commission proposals were being introduced without due consideration of their necessity and impact, it adds. 

The EPC commentary claims that the implementation of the system has been “variable at best” and that there is “much room for improvement”, adding that the way in which the IAB currently operates is “severely hampering” its effectiveness and that it suffers from a lack of time and resources. 

The EPC suggest a number of ways in which the IAB could improve its performance: 

  •  The IAB must examine all potential policy options – including the possibility of not introducing a policy at all, rather than simply justifying the options already chosen by those proposing the policy. 
  •  It should have the power to reject impact assessments which fail to properly address the above issue. 
  • It should require officials to explain what impact – if any – the assessment had on the final shape of the proposal. 
  •  EU legislation should be reviewed to assess its actual effect – compared with its intended scope and impact as set out in the impact assessment. 
  •  The IAB should draw more on external impact evaluation expertise. 
  • It should ensure its opinions are published before a decision is made on a proposal to provide greater transparency. 

The commentary concludes that the IAB should be given a clear mandate to operate as the Commission’s “regulatory watchdog”, ensuring that economic, social and environmental issues are taken into account – and that all policy options are genuinely considered. Such a comprehensive, high-quality impact assessment system remains “a distant goal”, it adds. 

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