EU guidelines

Lead Editor of this section is Johanna Ferretti


In 2002 the European Commission (EC) established a comprehensive framework for conducting ex-ante impact assessment (IA) of all its planned policy proposals. It aims to integrate the economic, environmental and social dimensions of planned legislation (cf. EC 2013). The EC’s IA system is considered as one of the most elaborated ones amongst OECD member countries (Jacob et al. 2011).

In addition to this generic IA, the EC has developed a Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment (Trade SIA) which is applied to trade-related measures, which involve negotiations with other non-EU countries (i.e. FTAs).

Development and orientation of the IA system

One particular characteristic of the IA procedure in the EC is that it is broadly applied. This change came about with IA system’s second reform in 2009 which contributed to broadening the areas that have to be assessed. Since then, not only policy initiatives and legislative proposals mentioned in the Commission’s Annual Legislative and Work Program have to be subject to IA, but initiatives that are not listed there, or that are developed in conjunction with the member states. This means inter alia that IAs are carried out for programmes and policies (e.g. White Papers) as well as for regulations and Directives (Jacob et al. 2012).


Another distinct feature of the IA process in the EC is that it runs in parallel to the process of policy development. The IA process involves working groups that are composed of representatives from all Directorates-General relevant to the proposal to ensure that all important aspects are sufficiently covered by the analysis. Furthermore, “roadmaps” have been introduced. These roadmaps do not only include an estimated timetable, but also already state, how the IA will be carried out or gives reasons why a full IA is not necessary. This already requires a rough analysis of the proposed regulation (ECA 2010: 5 and 66; Jacob, Guske and von Prittwitz 2011: 18).

Moreover, the EC has devoted substantial resources for supporting and conducting IAs to ensure high quality IAs. Today, all Directorates-General have an IA support unit and officials receive IA training. Additionally, the Secretariat-General provides an IA handbook to support the IA process. For the examination of specific issues, studies are commissioned and framework contracts are entered with consultants and researchers to develop models, for example. The EC JRC also supports the IA process as it includes several work groups that offer IA expertise (Jacob, Guske and von Prittwitz 2011: 17ff).

To ensure high quality IAs, the IA Board (IAB) was created. It consists of five high-level officials, who examine the quality of draft IAs and publish their opinion on them (EC 2011: 5ff). Inter-Service consultation takes place after the IA report has been revised according to IAB recommendations and before the report is submitted to the College of Commissioners.

The results of IAs are publicly available on the EC’s website (EC 2013). The complete analyses with a summary of the results are published together with the draft proposal. The findings of internal quality assurance are also published there (TEP 2007: 47f). However, in contrast to the UK, for example, the results are not published earlier than the proposed regulation is drafted but is published at the same time as the draft regulation (TEP 2007: 99f; ECA 2010: 30).


The EC’s IA system seeks to ensure that all three dimensions of sustainable development (or impact areas) are equally considered in the assessment. To support the screening process the guidelines for conducting IAs include a list of 21 possible impacts or key questions which are categorised into economic, environmental and social effects.

There are no methodological specifications, but instead the policy officers are requested to use the analytical form which is appropriate for the subject at hand. Annex III of the IA guidelines introduces a variety of methods for the different IA-steps. Among them are simple methods like problem-tree analysis, but also advanced instruments for modelling impacts. The EC sets out CBA, Cost-Effectiveness Analysis (CEA) and Multi-criteria analysis as tools most adequate for the comparison of policy options (EC 2009: 52).


In its evaluation from 2010, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) (2010) noted that the number of conducted IAs has constantly risen and their quality improved since its introduction. Until 2012 more than 400 IAs have been carried out (see the EC's list of IAs).

An external evaluation that was commissioned by the EC in 2007 found however that despite continuous improvement, IAs were not fully reaching their potential, especially in regard to improving the EC’s policy proposals and in providing an effective aid to decision-making (TEP 2007). This was due to several shortcomings, inter alia in timing, quality control mechanisms, and support and guidance (i.e. providing training, coordinating and developing IA-methodologies, detailed guidelines and data). Overall, IA at the EC has continued to gain importance. It has become a central process in the preparation of policy proposals and plays a significant role in their justification.

Strengths and Weaknesses

+ Incorporates the economic, social and environmental dimension: trade-offs among the different dimensions can be identified;

+ Covers all relevant sectors, cross-sectoral impacts as well as economy-wide and global impacts

+ Considers impacts in the EU and the partner countries at the same time

+ Structured process, but methodology for the assessment can be chosen as appropriate

+ Includes guidelines for engaging stakeholders in the IA process

- No detailed guidelines on choosing the methods for analysis

- Extensive data requirements

- resource intensive

References & Links

EC (European Commission). (2009). “Impact Assessment Guidelines.” SEC(2009) 92, Brussels.

EC (European Commission) (2013). Impact Assessment. (25 November 2013)

ECA (European Court of Auditors). (2010). “IAs in the EU institutions: Do they support decision making?” ECA Special Report No. 3/2010. Retrieved 23 December 2011, from

Jacob, K., Guske, A. L., and von Prittwitz, V. (2011). “Die Berücksichtigung von Nachhaltigkeitsaspekten in der Politikfolgenabschätzung im internationalen Vergleich –
Innovationen und Trends.” Studie der FU Berlin im Auftrag der Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Jacob, K., Weiland, S., Ferretti, J., Wascher, D., Chodorowska, D. (2011). Integrating the environment in regulatory impact assessments. GOV/RPC(2011)8/FINAL. OECD, Paris. (25 November 2013).

Jacob, K., Ferretti, J., Guske, A.-L., Turnpenny, J., Jordan, A., Adelle, C. (2012). Sustainability in Impact Assessments. A Review of Impact Assessment Systems in selected OECD countries and the European Commission. OECD, Paris. (25 November 2013).

TEP (The Evaluation Partnership). (2007). “Evaluation of the Commission’s Impact Assessment System – Final Report.” Retrieved 29 July 2011, from