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Better regulation – a key element of EU policy

Commission takes stock and renews its commitment.

SW – 05/2019

In April 2019, the European Commission took stock of its Better Regulation Agenda. It concludes that the better regulation principles are an integral part of the Commission's institutional culture and is widely supported by stakeholders. However, there is still room for improvement in the organisation of better regulation procedures.

This was also the general thrust of the speech given by Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the Commission, at a conference on the subject held by the Commission on 29 April. The problem is not because the EU regulates, but because of the intensity and complexity of its regulations. The Better Regulation Agenda has strengthened the transparency and efficiency of EU legislation. The procedures, consultation methods and independent monitoring bodies of the better regulation principles have contributed to evidence-based policy-making.

Vice-President Timmermans’ only regret is that the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission had not been able to agree on an impact assessment after the inter-institutional negotiations. The results of the negotiations often deviated considerably from the Commission’s original proposal, and thus also from the impact assessment based on this proposal. This should be taken up again by the next Commission.

Better regulation activities 2015 – 2018

A look at the stocktake in detail seems to confirm stakeholder agreement on being involved in all phases of the legislative process. The Commission held 417 public consultations between 2015 and 2018, of which 303 related to new initiatives. Whereas the Commission received 461 responses on average to its public consultations in 2015, by 2018 it received 2091. Further feedback procedures were carried out by the Commission on delegated acts (151) and on roadmaps and inception impact assessments (691). It also carried out 259 evaluations to check whether the initiative had produced the expected results and replied to 89 proposals submitted via the REFIT platform.

In order to convert facts and information from stakeholders into objective analysis to support the Commission’s decision-making and to provide a basis for informed decisions, the Commission carried out 218 impact assessments on legislative proposals over the same period.

The Regulatory Scrutiny Board, which examines the quality of impact assessments and key evaluations with the aim of improving both activities, issued a negative assessment on 43% of impact assessments and 41% of evaluations in 2017. In 2018, only 28% of impact assessments and 27% of evaluations were negatively rated.

Background

In order to take stock of the Better Regulation Agenda and assess how well the instruments it uses work in practice, the Commission launched a public consultation at the end of last year (see article Nov 2018). The umbrella associations of Germany’s social insurance system submitted comments to the consultation and stressed the need for a suitably long consultation period to gather sound policy advice. It also addressed the quality of the questionnaires, the content of which should be designed in such a way as not to link different points in such a way that assessments of individual aspects are impossible. The umbrella associations of Germany’s social insurance system also argued that social and health aspects should be adequately taken into account when new legislation is put forward.

Reactions at the conference

Although there was broad agreement to the Better Regulation Agenda, stakeholders at the conference also expressed some critical opinions. Among other things, it was stressed that consultations should only take place if the Commission is actually open to feedback. The question was raised whether less is more, that is, whether the Commission should limit itself to ‘significant’ consultations. The Commission should create a real opportunity for engagement. Citizens must be convinced that it is worthwhile for them to invest their time. The quality of the questionnaires was also addressed. In terms of fact-based policy-making, it was pointed out that consultations did not necessarily convey facts, but rather opinions. The weighting of consultation contributions and the extent to which the number of interests represented by an organisation are taken into account were also addressed.

Another interesting point regarding up-to-date legislation, particularly in the field of technological innovation, was the question of the right balance between fact-based legislation on the one hand and the need to achieve timely results on the other. Particularly in fast-moving areas such as technology, it is difficult to make legislation future-proof. Regulatory sandboxes were discussed as a possible solution; these allow certain stakeholders to test legislation before it is formally implemented and to create the legal certainty required to ensure it can function properly. In order to keep pace in the digital age, regulatory sandboxes must be used as a tool and their results taken into account in impact assessments.

Bottom line

Both in its stock take of the Better Regulation Agenda and at the conference, the Commission underlined the need for joint efforts to achieve optimal results through better regulation. Better regulation should remain a priority for the future. However, Vice-President Timmermans said that the Commission was not the only protagonist; the Parliament, the Council, Member States, local and regional authorities and all other stakeholders all have a role to play.