Evaluations and Fitness checks
The European Commission conducts evaluations and fitness checks to decide whether EU actions should be continued or amended.
An evaluation gathers evidence to assess how an EU law, policy or spending activity has performed (or is working), and considers why this has occurred. The Commission examines if the EU act remains fit for purpose and still delivers the intended objective at a minimum cost. The results of an evaluation help the Commission in determining to repeal or change an EU action. Evaluations thereby contribute to strategic planning and decision-making and support the increase of transparency and accountability.
The elements of an evaluation
An evaluation is carried out by the responsible Commission Directorate-General (DG) for the EU law, policy or spending activity. All the evaluations the European Commission conducts follow a clearly defined methodology that intends to produce objective findings. A detailed description of the evaluation process can be found in the Better Regulation Guidelines and Toolbox. The Guidelines state that an evaluation should adhere to the following principles: it should be comprehensive, proportionate, independent and objective, entail a transparent judgment and be evidence-based. The gathered evidence and the conclusion the research leads towards are vital to the success of an evaluation and are what sets it apart from a regular study. Evidence for evaluations can be gathered through stakeholder consultations, the work of the REFIT platform, and input that is submitted via the “Lighten Your Load” website.
At a minimum, an evaluation is made up of the following elements:
- an overview of the current situation regarding the EU action that is being evaluated;
- effectiveness – to what extent the EU action has reached its objectives, how and why it has done so;
- efficiency – what the costs and benefits of the EU action are, and whether there are any possibilities of (further) simplification or burden reduction;
- relevance – whether the EU action still responds to stakeholders’ needs;
- coherence – how well the components of the single EU act work, and how it interacts with other EU acts;
- EU added value – what the benefits are of acting at EU level.
While determining these criteria, the Commission DG should assess all significant economic, social and environmental impacts of the EU act. On an exceptional basis, the evaluation of a single EU-act may omit just one or two of the evaluation-criteria, provided the Secretariat-General of the Commission agrees. Regardless, if the Commission decides not to assess one of the criteria they should explain why so.
If an impact assessment, preceding the legislative process, has previously been conducted for the EU-act, the Commission should also take into consideration earlier predictions made in these impact assessments. The Commission further checks whether there were effects which were not anticipated or intended by the legislator in the act.
The timing of an evaluation
Evaluations can be required by the legal basis on which an EU act is based, or by a review clause in the EU act which the legislator has included. Some evaluations are mandatory for the Commission to conduct, for instance when this is laid down in the Treaties of the European Union.
For example, article 318 TFEU states that the Commission shall annually evaluate the Union’s finances based on the results achieved.
In general, the Commission aims to perform an evaluation before revising legislation or introducing new legislation. This is called the “evaluate first principle”. The results of the evaluation are then taken into account in the preparatory work of a new legislative process, such as impact assessments. The 2017 Commission Communication on Better Regulation stated that the Commission has made increasing use of the possibility to perform an evaluation before an impact assessment. The use of an evaluation before an impact assessment has risen from just under 50% in 2016, to almost 70% in 2017.
The Commission’s updated Guidelines on Evaluations (2017) defines the circumstances in which an evaluation is not generally required. These are:
- when a limited set of previous adjustments to parts of an EU act are not expected to lead to changes to the wider EU act;
- when the performance of an EU act that is still at an early point in its implementation;
- when information on the longer-term changes of the EU act (results and impacts) is not yet available.
Forward planning of evaluations
The Commission’s forward planning of evaluations and studies from 2017 and beyond can be found here. Any evaluations that are planned op top of the yearly planning will be added to this document. Most evaluations of spending activities will take place two to four years after the ending of the program. There is no uniform timetable of evaluations of non-spending activities, as these instruments can take on various forms that have different policy-cycles. The Inter-Institutional Agreement on Better Lawmaking states that the European Parliament and Council can request the Commission to include the evaluation of specific policy areas or legal act in their planning.
A fitness check is a broader evaluation of a policy area, as opposed to the evaluation of a single EU act. A fitness-check addresses how several related EU acts have contributed to the attainment of their common policy objectives. The scope of a fitness-check is not subject to any criteria. The framework that is assessed may, therefore, be purely regulatory, but fitness checks are often done for a mix of regulatory and non-regulatory actions. The Commission’s Better Regulation Toolbox provides some guidance for deciding when and for what EU-acts a fitness check is necessary. Factors to take into account are how long the various EU actions have existed and cooperated together, and what their common objectives are.
When performing a fitness-check, the Commission identifies the impact the EU acts have had on the policy objectives, covering both costs and benefits. The Commission checks for overlaps, inconsistencies, synergies and inefficiencies. As opposed to an evaluation of a single EU act, fitness-checks should always include all beforementioned evaluation criteria.
Fitness-checks were introduced in the 2010 Commission Communication on Smart Regulation in the European Union . The Commission stated that the evaluation of individual initiatives cannot always show the full picture. Conducting a fitness-check can provide economies of scale and a more strategic view of the policy area. The use of an evaluation or fitness-check is not interchangeable, however, nor does the use of one instrument rule out the other instrument. Evaluations and fitness-checks are seen as complementary and mutually reinforcing tools.
Contributing to evaluations
There are two ways in which stakeholders can contribute to evaluations: during the preparation of the evaluation and during the evaluation itself.
Upcoming evaluations are announced through the publication of an Evaluation Roadmap. These roadmaps describe the purpose, scope and timing of evaluations. All evaluation roadmaps can be found here on the Commission’s website: ‘Have your say‘. This web portal offers European citizens and other stakeholders the opportunity to share their views on evaluation roadmaps. The feedback stakeholders give on these roadmaps must be taken into account by the lead Commission Directorate-General (DG) who conducts the evaluation.
The Evaluation Roadmap also contains the proposed consultation strategy during the evaluation. It details how the lead DG intends to consult stakeholders and experts during the evaluation. All evaluations require a 12 week public consultation on the beforementioned main elements of the evaluation.
Back to back evaluation
If an evaluation and impact assessment are undertaken in close sequence to each other, it is possible for the Commission to conduct only one public consultation. This consultation should then as a minimum cover all the main elements of the impact assessment. All feedback that is received on the evaluation may be published (anonymously) on the website of the European Commission and will be summarized and presented to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, taken into account in the legislative debate.
Results and follow- up of an evaluation
The main findings of evaluations are summarized in staff working documents (SWD), which are published on the website EUR-Lex. These documents contain the evaluation process, evidence-based analysis and findings. Their purpose is to communicate these finding to both policymakers and stakeholders. If applicable, the opinion of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board is also incorporated into the staff working document.
Other evaluation documents can be found in the EU bookshop. Available documents include the evaluation reports prepared for the Commission by external contractors and the internal evaluation reports of the Commission. The guidelines on evaluations state that at the end of an evaluation, appropriate follow-up actions must be identified and fed into the decision-making cycle. The Commission’s updated Guidelines on Evaluations (2017) provide a few examples on the form of this follow-up: the findings can be taken into an impact assessment or the report can lead to improving guidance or further monitoring. In many instances, the legal base of the evaluated EU-act will call for a Commission Report with the main findings of the evaluation to be sent to the European Parliament and the Council. If this is not required, an executive summary containing the main points of the evaluation is be prepared.
The Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) checks the quality of both impact assessments and major evaluations. Its predecessor, the Impact Assessment Board, was only eligible to check impact assessments. If the RSB issues out an opinion on the evaluation, the document is published on the same Commission website as all other documents covering the evaluation.