The European Commission set itself ambitious targets in 2015 to improve Better Regulation over a four year period. My blog of May 2015 summarised those challenges https://pai.ie/1765-delivering-better-regulation-at-eu-level/ at the end of 2018, the Commission took stock of performance, which included wide consultation. Overall the results are positive for Better Regulation. However, the Commission admits that there is more work that needs to be done. Specifically, it states that – “… there is room for further improvement and we have identified areas which should be explored in a wider debate on future improvements. These will depend on a stronger shared effort by all those involved in designing and implementing policy solutions”. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/better-regulation-taking-stock_en_0.pdf .
The consultation process was quite wide ranging. The stocktaking exercise focused on the years 2015 through 2018, and relied upon a mixture of evidence. The European Commission used external assessments (from the OECD and the European Court of Auditors), reports from the Regulatory Scrutiny Board and a broad range of consultation activities. These included:
- interviews and meetings to consult Commission staff working in a range of different departments and functions, including better regulation support staff, senior managers and members of Commissioners’ political teams,
- a public consultation of all external stakeholders,
- targeted consultation meetings with the administrative secretariats of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee,
- an opinion from the Platform of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT),
- discussion in the Competitiveness and Growth Working Party of the Council (better regulation).
The European Commission concluded that there are positive and negative lessons to be learnt from the stocktaking. They are summarised in Box 1:
|Box 1: European Commission
‘Better Regulation at the heart of policy making: ‘What we’ve learnt’
• The concept of better regulation is univocally supported and should remain at the heart of our decision-making processes for the future
• In a ‘post-fact’ world of fake news, the rationale for evidence-based regulation is only growing stronger.
• Better regulation supports political decision-making but it does not substitute it.
• The public and stakeholders would like to be even more engaged in EU policymaking and get better feedback.
• There is still room for improvement when it comes to the way we design and evaluate EU policies.
• There is a clear need for better communication and awareness, raising opportunities for citizens to participate in EU policymaking.
• Better regulation needs to be a shared effort of all those involved in designing and implementing policy solutions.
Better Regulation cannot be created in a vacuum. The recent EU stocktaking exercise shows that better regulation must be a shared effort. As the tools and processes deployed by the Commission improve, further advances increasingly should focus upon improvements the Commission can facilitate but not ensure by itself. As the Commission put it – “… the stocktaking clearly showed that the quality of evaluation depends on a shared understanding with the co-legislators and Member States on when best to evaluate, which indicators and frameworks to use for measuring performance, and how to efficiently collect the necessary monitoring information”. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/better-regulation-taking-stock_en_0.pdf
The European Commission uses a number of tools to ensure better regulation. The tools include impact assessments, evaluations, road maps and supporting instruments (including the better regulation guidelines and toolbox) and the independent quality control provided by the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. All these tools are used to translate evidence and stakeholder input into objective analysis supporting political decision-making. The Regulatory Scrutiny Board, as an independent group of Commission officials and external experts, plays a ver important role by checking the quality of all impact assessments and major evaluations. The results of their work are presented in its regular annual reports. These are accessible on an excellent website https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-making-process/regulatory-scrutiny-board_en#latest
In order to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose, the European Commission initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). It makes sure that EU laws deliver their intended benefits for citizens, businesses and society at minimum cost and in the simplest way. The REFIT Platform advises the Commission on how to make EU regulation more efficient and reviews the suggestions that EU citizens, businesses, national authorities and other stakeholders send via an aptly named website ‘Lighten the load’. https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/lighten-load_en
At the heart of the work of the EU are the Directorate Generals of the the European Commission. They are the ones that carry out the evaluations, the impact assessments, the road maps and draft legislation. The assessment of those reports is the done by the Regulatory Scrutiny Board and Refit Platform. Figure 1 summarises the work, under a number of headings, during the period 2015 to 2018.
The outgoing European Commission has done a good job on better regulation. The incoming European Commission will face new challenges. It will not be all plain sailing. For example, the stocktaking showed that stakeholders had mixed views on the Commission’s efforts to simplify existing EU laws and reduce costs where possible. While the Commission’s efforts to simplify and reduce unnecessary burdens have delivered results, there are critics who would suggest that these are neither well communicated nor generally regarded as sufficient. Accordingly, while the changes introduced under the outgoing Commission have gone in the right direction, there is scope to do better. In particular, it will be important for the new European Commission to undertake work at an early stage to ascertain the reasons why simplification has proven to be so complicated and burden reduction so burdensome.
Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.