The Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) was introduced in the Commission’s Communication on EU Regulatory Fitness in 2012 as part of the Smart Regulation Agenda. REFIT is a rolling programme that assesses the entire stock of EU legislation to ensure that it is ‘fit for purpose’ by minimizing regulatory burdens and simplifying legislation.
These improvements must be realized without compromising the policy objectives of the legislation in question. Therefore REFIT is not intended for deregulation but rather it is about making EU regulation better.
The programme combines (elements of) various prior initiatives undertaken by the Commission and pre-existing EU evaluation practices. For example, the ongoing rolling simplification programme and the work on reducing regulatory burdens for small businesses were merged into REFIT.
Screening EU legislation
REFIT began in 2012 by screening areas of EU legislation with the best potential to reduce regulatory burdens. The Commission involved stakeholders in this exercise, whose comments and suggestions were taken into consideration to determine which areas to choose. The Commission’s further actions following the screening of EU can be divided into four categories:
- supporting already pending proposals for simplification and burden reduction that were awaiting adoption by the co-legislators;
- introducing new initiatives to simplify, reduce regulatory costs and consolidate legislation;
- further evaluation in certain policy areas. For these areas Fitness Checks and evaluations were initiated;
- proposing the repeal or withdraw of outdated legislation and planned initiatives which were not taken forward.
In the screening process over 100 possible follow-up actions were identified.
Approaches to simplifying EU legislation
Completed REFIT actions can lead to simplified legislation. There are a number of ways how this can happen:
- codification – bringing together a legal act (or several related acts) and all its amendments into a single new act;
- recasting – similar to codification, but in this case, the legislation itself is amended at the same time as previous amendments are incorporated to form one consolidated text;
- withdrawal – legislation in preparation is withdrawn;
- repeal – unnecessary and irrelevant laws are removed;
- revision/review or sunset clauses – to avoid formal repeal the Commission introduces review, revision or sunset clauses in legislative proposals. This is especially prudent in relation to legislation governing sectors with fast technological development;
- regulations instead of directives – this will result in that all EU citizens and businesses are subject to the same rules and prevents Member states from adding extra requirements;
- Lighter alternatives – replacing legally binding instruments with lighter alternatives, e.g. voluntary agreements.
The screening also showed that a more rigorous approach to assessing benefits, costs and seeking stakeholders views was needed to determine whether legislation was indeed effective and efficient. Consequently, the Commission began revising and strengthening its evaluation framework. For example by setting minimum requirements for the frequency and scope of evaluations. These observations also led to the to the establishment of the REFIT Platform in 2015 by the Commission, to involve stakeholders and Member States more in the REFIT programme.
In the context of the broader better regulation efforts, quantification was recognized as being an increasingly important part of the assessment process in general. Consequently, the measurement of regulatory costs and benefits is a central focus in fitness checks and ex-post evaluations carried out in the REFIT programme. In the first three years (2012-2014) this has resulted in more than 80% of the REFIT initiatives undertaken to include a quantified assessment of regulatory costs and over 60% of these initiatives to include a quantification of regulatory benefits. Moreover, from 2017 onwards, the REFIT programme seeks to identify unnecessary cost reduction and simplification every time the Commission proposes to revise existing legislation.
Think Small First – SME Test
A guiding principle of the REFIT programme is the ‘Think Small First’ principle. This was first introduced in 2008 in the ‘Small Bussiness Act for Europe”. The principle is focused on creating a SME-friendlier business environment in the EU. In the context of REFIT this means that the interests of small- and medium-sized are taken into account when evaluating policies. Hereby applying lighter regimes for SMEs and exemptions for micro-enterprises wherever possible.
An essential policy principle used by the Commission in their execution of the REFIT programme is ‘evaluate first’. According to this principle, the Commission requires for legislation to be evaluated before introducing a new proposal in areas were legislation already exists.
REFIT Scoreboard and the Commission Work Programme
Since 2014 the Commission publishes an annual REFIT scoreboard to track the progression of the initiatives for burden reduction and simplification undertaken in the context of the REFIT programme. Hereby contributing to the transparency of the policy process.
The first REFIT scoreboard shows that by June 2014 133 REFIT actions were pending, instigated or planned by the Commission. The scoreboards of the following years show that the number of REFIT actions increased to 164 in 2015 and 231 in 2016 Finally, the 2017 REFIT scoreboard shows that the pending, instigated and planned REFIT actions decreased to 159.
Besides listing all REFIT actions annually in the REFIT scoreboard since 2014, the Commission also lists all planned new REFIT actions for that year in an annex of the Commission work programme.
Predecessors to the REFIT Programme
Action Plan on simplifying the regulatory environment
An earlier step towards simplifying and improving EU legislation was taken in 2002 through the introduction of the Action Plan ‘simplifying and improving the regulatory environment’ Following this Action Plan, impact assessments and stakeholder consultations became mandatory for all new legislative initiatives proposed by the Commission. The focus was clearly on new legislative initiatives.
Simplification Rolling Programme
In 2005 the Commission introduced the next relevant initiative: the Simplification Rolling Programme (SRP). This multiannual programme identified over 640 initiatives for simplification, repeal, codification or recasting.
Administrative Burden Reduction Programme
The SRP was followed by the Administrative Burden Reduction Programme (ABR) in 2007. This programme was directed at reducing unnecessary administrative burdens for businesses in thirteen selected priority areas. At the end of the programme in 2012, the measures taken under this programme resulted in a 25% reduction of existing administrative burdens stemming from EU legislation. In support of ABR, the High-Level Group on Administrative Burdens (HLG AB) was set up late 2007 and continued to work until October 2014. The Group was tasked with providing advice on administrative burden reduction.
In the 2010 Communication on Smart Regulation the Commission emphasizes the importance of focusing on the whole policy cycle – from the design phase, to implementation, enforcement, evaluation and revision phases. Key tools of this new approach besides impact assessments and stakeholder involvement were, firstly, the ex post evaluation of legislation. Secondly, the Commission introduced a pilot on a new form of evaluation, namely fitness checks. Fitness checks allowed for entire sections of existing EU legislation to be reviewed instead of evaluations of individual pieces of EU legislation.