by Joseph Dunne and Katharina Eisele (Original source: European Parliamentary Research Service Blog)
Laws and regulation affect all areas of people’s lives and businesses’ activity. ‘While good regulation is conducive to economic growth and wellbeing, inadequate regulation endangers both’, according to the OECD.
Impact assessments, next to public stakeholder consultations and ex-post evaluations, are tools for better law-making at the EU level. These tools aim to improve the quality of EU legislation. What is ex-ante impact assessment and why is it important for good regulation? Ex-ante impact assessment in the EU context can be defined as an attempt to provide, in advance of legislating, a coherent analysis of the reasoning that lies behind, and the foreseeable effects of, any proposed measure or policy initiative.
The EU and the USA have institutionalised frameworks in place to support evidence-based policy and rule-making. While the ways that regulatory policy is shaped are similar, there are also some differences.
Ex-ante impact assessment as an integral part of better regulation
The term ‘better regulation’ has been high on the agenda in Brussels since Jean-Claude Juncker, (now former) European Commission President, made it a top priority in 2015. At that time, the European Commission, as the EU’s executive, adopted its Better Regulation Agenda, in which it committed to consult and listen more, to give everyone the chance to have a say, to explain its policy initiatives better, to open up to scrutiny, as well as to examine the existing stock of EU legislation.
What did this entail? First, better regulation was included in the portfolio of the (then) Commission’s first Vice-President, Frans Timmermans. Moreover, better regulation was set to cover the whole policy cycle, from planning, adoption, design, implementation, application, to evaluation and revision. The Commission also published Better Regulation Guidelines and an accompanying Toolbox (which were updated in 2017), addressed to Commission staff.
Momentum increased a year later, in 2016, when the main three EU institutions (the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) adopted a new Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making. In this agreement, the three EU institutions recognised their joint responsibility for delivering high-quality EU legislation. The agreement highlighted ex-ante impact assessment as a key element of better regulation and an important tool for improving the quality of legislation without, however, replacing political decisions. The agreement also provides a common definition of impact assessments in its paragraph 12:
‘Impact assessments should cover the existence, scale and consequences of a problem and the question whether or not Union action is needed. They should map out alternative solutions and, where possible, potential short and long-term costs and benefits, assessing the economic, environmental and social impacts in an integrated and balanced way and using both qualitative and quantitative analyses. The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality should be fully respected, as should fundamental rights.’
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