Depending on the objective pursued and the issue at stake, consultation can be carried out on different elements of the impact assessment (nature of the problem, objectives and policy options, impacts, comparison of policy options, assessment of costs and benefits).
Consultation is not a one-off event, but a dynamic process that may need several steps. Planning should cover the whole policy-making process and include information on:
- the objective of the consultation(s): finding new ideas (brainstorming); collecting factual data; validating a hypothesis, etc.;
- the elements of the IA for which consultation is necessary, e.g. nature of the problem, subsidiarity aspects, objectives and policy options, impacts, comparison of policy options;
- the target groups: general public, a specific category of stakeholders or designated individuals / organisations;
- the appropriate consultation tool(s): consultative committees, expert groups, open hearings, ad hoc meetings, consultation via Internet, questionnaires, focus groups, seminars/workshops, etc.;
- the appropriate time for consultation(s): it should start early but can run at intervals throughout the IA process.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for stakeholder consultations, but there are minimum standards which must be applied.
Minimum consultation standards
- Provide clear, concise consultation documents that include all necessary information.
- Questions and problems included in a consultation questionnaire should be unambiguous.
- Consult all relevant target groups. Ask yourself: who will be affected by the policy and who will be involved in its implementation?
- Ensure sufficient publicity and choose tools adapted to the target groups – open public consultations must at least be publicised on the Commission’s single access point for consultation, ‘Your Voice in Europe’.
- Leave sufficient time for participation. While eight weeks is the minimum period recommended for written public consultations, there are circumstances where a longer period might be necessary (e.g. proposals which are particularly complex or sensitive, or if you are consulting over a holiday period). You should provide 20 working days notice for meetings.
- Publish the results of the public consultation on ‘Your Voice in Europe’.
- Provide – collective or individual – acknowledgement of responses.
- Provide feedback: report on the consultation process, its main results and how you have taken the opinions expressed into account in the IA report and in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the Commission proposal.