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Assessing the quality of European Impact Assessments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2024

Diana-Maria Danciu
Research Group Policy Management, Faculty of Business Economics, Hasselt University, Hasselt, Belgium
Laura Martens
Research Group Policy Management, Faculty of Business Economics, Hasselt University, Hasselt, Belgium Faculty of Law, Antwerp University, Antwerp, Belgium
Wim Marneffe*
Research Group Policy Management, Faculty of Business Economics, Hasselt University, Hasselt, Belgium
Corresponding author: Wim Marneffe; Email:


This paper explores the possibility of developing a framework to assess the quality of Impact Assessments (IAs) by examining the common elements found in the existent academic literature around this concept, the stocktaking exercises carried out by the European institutions and the opinions of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. At this intersection, we find that diversity in the interpretation and application of the guidelines is not only acceptable but also necessary in tailoring IAs to the needs they represent. Our findings are relevant because a universal framework that avoids focusing solely on assessing quality not only will provide much-needed coherence in this field but will also raise awareness about the normality of variability in the application of any European Union guidelines, thus reflecting the inherent nature of the IAs.

© The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 European Commission, “Better Regulation Guidelines” (2021).

2 C Dunlop, O Fritsch and C Radaelli, “The Appraisal of Policy Appraisal: Learning About the Quality of Impact Assessment” (2015) 149(1) Revue française d’administration publique 163–78.

3 C Cecot, R Hahn, A Renda and L Schrefler, “An Evaluation of the Quality of Impact Assessment in the European Union with Lessons for the US and the EU” (2008) 2 Regulation & Governance 405–24; C Adelle and S Weiland, “Policy Assessment: The State of the Art” (2012) 30(1) Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 25–33.

4 To add to this, the checklist used by the RSB is not public, and it is therefore unclear what precisely is assessed in the IAs. Although this is not important for the drafting services that receive recommendations based on this checklist, for an external stakeholder it could be helpful to know precisely which elements are being looked at.

5 A Alemanno, “How Much Better Is Better Regulation? Assessing the Impact of the Better Regulation Package on the European Union – A Research Agenda” (2015) 6 European Journal of Risk Regulation 344.

6 C Radaelli, “Regulatory Indicators in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Performance Assessment, Organizational Processes, and Learning” (2020) 35(3) Public Policy and Administration 227–46.

7 See discussions provided in the following: S Smismans, “Policy Evaluation in the EU: The Challenges of Linking Ex Ante and Ex Post Appraisal” (2015) 1 European Journal of Risk Regulation 6–26; J Torriti, “The Unsustainable Rationality of Impact Assessment” (2011) 31 European Journal of Law and Economics 307–20; Radaelli, supra, note 6.

8 E Golberg, “‘Better Regulation’: European Union Style” (2018) Harvard Kennedy School, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, M-RCBG Associate Working Paper Series.

9 C Dunlop and C Radaelli, Overcoming Illusions of Control: How to Nudge and Teach Regulatory Humility (London, Bloomsbury 2015).

10 R Bull and J Ellig, “Judicial Review of Regulatory Impact Analysis: Why Not the Best?” (2017) 69(4) Administrative Law Review 725–840.

11 C Cecot, RW Hahn and A Renda, “A Statistical Analysis of the Quality of Impact Assessment in the European Union” (Working Paper 07-09, AEI-Brookings Joint Center, 2007); Dunlop and Radaelli, supra, note 9.

12 Senninger and Blom-Hansen find that the RSB takes its role very seriously, providing, on average, five major change requests with a rejection rate of 39% in the first opinion and a rejection rate of 7% in the second opinion; R Senninger and J Blom-Hansen, “Meet the critics: analyzing the EU Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board through quantitative text analysis” (2021) 4(15), Regulation and Governance 1436–53.

13 Torriti, supra, note 7.

14 Adelle and Weiland, supra, note 3.

15 Cecot et al, supra, note 3.

16 C Radaelli and A Meuwese, “Better Regulation in Europe: Between Public Management and Regulatory Reform” (2009) 87(3) Public Administration 639–54; J Turnpenny, C Radaelli, A Jordan and K Jacob, “The Policy and Politics of Policy Appraisal: Emerging Trends and New Directions” (2009) 16(4) Journal of European Public Policy 640–53.

17 E Bozzini and S Smismans, “More Inclusive European Governance through Impact Assessments?” (2016) 14(1) Comparative European Politics 89–106.

18 P Carroll, “Does Regulatory Impact Assessment Lead to Better Policy?” (2010) 29(2) Policy and Society 113–22; G Listorti, E Basyte-Ferrari, S Acs and P Smits, “Towards an Evidence-Based and Integrated Policy Cycle in the EU: A Review of the Debate on the Better Regulation Agenda” (2020) 58(6) Journal of Common Market Studies 1558–77.

19 28.7% thought that social and environmental impacts are considered sufficiently, whereas 31.5% thought that they are only partially considered. The remaining respondents – approximately 10% – had no opinion on the matter or were unsure.

20 A Boardman, D Greenberg, A Vining and D Weimer, Cost–Benefit Analysis: Concepts and Practice (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2017).

21 C Adelle and Weiland, supra, note 3.

22 M Nilsson, “The Role of Assessments and Institutions for Policy Learning: A Study on Swedish Climate and Nuclear Policy Formation” (2006) 38 Policy Sciences 225–49; J Hammes, “The Influence of Individual Characteristics and Institutional Norms on Bureaucrats’ Use of Cost–Benefit Analysis: A Choice Experiment” (2020) 12(2) Journal of Cost–Benefit Analysis 258–86.

23 Cecot et al, supra, note 3.

24 C Kirkpatrick and D Parker, Regulatory Impact Assessment: Towards Better Regulation? (Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing 2007).

25 C Sunstein, “Does the Clear and Present Danger Test Survive Cost–Benefit Analysis?” (2019) 104 Cornell Law Review 1775–98.

26 By recoding the variables, we transformed, for example, our variable criteria for discarding policy options into fifteen new dummy variables detailing each reason for discarding options.

27 These tables are very extensive and, for the purpose of easing the flow of reading, we decided to move them to the Annexes.

28 The lack of a public consultation can be justified by urgent issues, exceptional situations (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) or requested exemptions, and it is thus not necessarily an indicator of poor quality.

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