REPOST FROM THE OSSERVATORIO AIR - Towards an evidence‐based and integrated policy cycle in the EU: A review of the debate on the Better Regulation Agenda


Research note by Giulia Listorti and Egle Basyte‐Ferrari, Joint Research Centre – European Commission

The paper focuses on the literature review carried out in support of the stocktaking exercise launched by in 2019 the European Commission for an overall assessment of the Better Regulation Agenda.

The findings are of interest following the launch on 29 April 2021 on the new Communication on better regulation. Together with the need to deliver on an ambitious agenda and to address extraordinary challenges, the updated communication also explicitly aims at tackling the issues identified in the 2019 stocktaking.

The stocktaking was informed, in addition to a broad internal and external consultation, also by an extensive literature review to explore the views characterizing, in particular, the scholarly debate. The various contributions (peer-reviewed articles, studies and reports from Think Tanks, international organizations, and EU internal scrutinizing bodies) have been organized based on the salient points of the debate. The review has been structured around what are regarded by the included authors as main achievements, critical aspects and suggestions for further improvement.

The paper focuses on two highlights of the review: evidence‐based policymaking and integrated policy cycle. It first presents an overview of the challenges related to studying the Agenda, specifically its complex nature and the relatively short implementation period. These are reflected by the theoretical rather than empirical nature of most contributions, as well as sometimes contradictory remarks by authors participating in the debate. It then presents the observations on some overarching elements of the Agenda and describes the results related to the evidence‐based policymaking and the integrated policy cycle.

Findings are interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, the review provides a systematic assessment of the debate on the BR Agenda concerning its positive and negative aspects and suggestions on what can be improved. The great majority of the contributions agree on the ambition of the reform. At the same time, they also underline the importance of concrete implementation, as well as identify critical aspects and tensions covering normative along with very practical aspects.

In particular, authors welcome the Commission’s commitment to a sound use of evidence for policymaking. The attempt to provide guidance via the BR guidelines and toolbox is welcomed, together with the consideration of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The literature also highlights that appropriate standards to select and weigh evidence should be further developed, and that additional support and guidance on methodological aspects should be provided, by considering also the European Union’s vision for the medium and long term.

The Agenda is also seen as a step forward for the EU in closing the policy cycle. However, some authors express concerns on how strong actually the link between impact assessments (IA) and evaluations is and how much the information they provide is fully embedded in the decision-making process. IA and evaluation documents should be kept accessible, understandable and useful for decision-makers. Authors call for transparency on data, assumptions and methodology. Methodological coherency and quality need to be ensured. For evaluations, review and evaluation clauses should clearly define and ensure the accompanying data collection at a Member State level.

Secondly, the debate on the BR Agenda itself presents some extremely interesting features: it is extremely varied, characterised by contradictory positions, but also confined within the academic fields of political science, public administration and law. Including the perspectives from other fields often deeply involved in better regulation activities would be of crucial importance for learning and further improvement of regulation quality.

Finally, in this context, it is also worth mentioning a related contribution on the literature review (presented here in the Observatory), dedicated to the debate on transparency and its role in promoting trust in EU regulation. Robustness of the evidence underlying policies can be demonstrated through transparent documentation and openness to scrutiny and input. Authors argue that the Agenda offers a concrete possibility to increase transparency of evidence underpinning policy formulation.

Many of the elements underlined in the stocktaking have been explicitly recalled in the updated Communication.

In line with the calls from the literature review for basing regulation on evidence, the Communication announces further efforts to improve the analysis and reporting of impacts. A strong emphasis is given to scientific evidence, which – together with learning from the past through evaluations – are called the cornerstones of the Commission’s better regulation approach. The scientific community is recognised as a key contributor to ensuring high-quality EU policymaking.

With regards to closing the policy cycle, the Communication restates the commitment to the “evaluate first” principle. With respect to reporting obligations, Commission calls on the co-legislators to make sure enough data is available for evaluations without imposing unnecessary administrative burdens.

To improve the transparency, the Commission commits to publish the rationale and evidence behind all relevant proposals, including when IA could not be prepared. An important novelty is the Joint Legislative Portal to be set up together with the European Parliament and the Council, to make it easier for the interested public to find all the evidence behind a given initiative.

The Commission thus further strengthens its efforts to improve access to information and documents through various registers and portals already in place. In this context MIDAS, the Commission inventory of models, provides a user-friendly platform to help anyone explore the models used for impact assessments since 2017. As a concrete manifestation of its commitment to transparency for better regulation, in 2020, MIDAS has been made publicly available. The aim is to help people better understand the evidence used by the Commission when designing policies, facilitating communication and understanding of the analysis.