8 April 2015

Open Europe’s proposal for an independent and powerful European Impact Assessment board

In our 2009 ‘Out of Control’ Intelligence report, Open Europe examined in depth how the EU could regulate more efficiently with the emphasis on results instead of process. We identified how a major problem inherent in the EU’s current regulatory system is that the European Commission’s Impact Assessment Board (IAB) – which should be the first filter for new EU laws – lacks autonomy and teeth.

As we highlighted then:

“European Impact Assessments  leave a lot to be desired. However, no amount of improvements will make a difference if there is no independent watchdog in place to ensure that the cost-benefit analysis has a real impact on the final decision.

Open Europe, ‘Out of Control’ Intelligence Report, 2009

We then proposed that: “An independent IA Board should be established with the power to veto legislative proposals if its accompanying IA does not meet the required standards. In other words, the Board should be given the mandate to play ‘ping-pong’ with the Commission over regulatory proposals. If the IA process is to be taken seriously by businesses and member state governments, there must be an enforceable minimum standard. The existing IA Board within the Commission has often been critical of EIAs and made valuable suggestions regarding future improvements.”

In 2014, in our Mandate to the European Commission, we also proposed that an Independent Impact Assessment Board should be a priority for the new European Commission.

 There needs to be a clear message from bottom to top that regulation should be pursued only when it has been shown to be absolutely necessary and that the benefits outweigh the costs to businesses and individuals.

Open Europe, Out of Control Intelligence Report, 2009

Will the Commission’s red-tape cutter in Chief take up our proposal?

Now it looks like there may be some progress on that front. Dutch Magazine Elsevier reports that Frans Timmermans,  the EU Commissioner charged with better regulation (a post that was only created last year, and that was originally proposed by Open Europe)  is set to announce “a master plan to cut red tape” on the 28th of April.

One central aspect of this ‘master plan’ reports Elsevier, would be to grant the Commission’s Impact Assessment Board “some kind of veto power over new proposed rules to ensure that [new laws] wouldn’t lead to bureaucratic burdens or breach existing rules.”

If confirmed, this would certainly be a step in the right direction. And it would also add to the reform credentials of Mr Timmermans. As we have noted in the past, some of the most proactive reform-minded thinking comes the Dutch.

Timmermans may face opposition

However, as I note in Elsevier, despite his flying start, Timmermans has quickly come up against obstacles in his new Commissioner role –  and not just from within the European bureaucracy but also among member states (consider, for example, how member states forced him not to withdraw EU proposals to limit the use of plastic bags). This should serve as a useful reminder of how EU reform starts at home.

When it’s unveiled later this month, we can hope Timmerman’s plan will contain some meat and that member states are willing to back him. In the words of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker himself, this Commission represents the “last chance” for the EU to win back citizens’ trust – so the sooner Timmerman’s reform drive can be enforced – the better.