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The use of legislative evaluations by the European Commission

Date of news: 3 April 2018

The European Commission has repeatedly emphasized the importance of ex-post legislative (EPL) evaluations in improving the quality of its legislative proposals. However, the use of such evaluations cannot be taken for granted. Whereas some studies show that the Commission uses evidence to improve legislative proposals, others show that its use of evaluations is limited due to its politicized environment and because of technical constraints. In their article The (non-)use of ex post legislative evaluations by the European Commission published recently in the Journal of European Public Policy, Stijn van Voorst, MSc and dr Pieter Zwaan ask the question to what extent and how political conditions affect the European Commission's instrumental use of EPL evaluations.

They expected that necessary conditions for the Commission's use of EPL evaluations are that evaluation recommendations do not contradict the preferences of the policy-makers, veto players or interest groups involved in the European legislative process. To test these expectations, an in-depth analysis and comparison of three EPL evaluations with varying levels of use was carried out. Extensive document analysis and nineteen in-depth interviews with various actors were used to collect data about the impact of various political conditions on the Commission's use of EPL evaluations. Technical explanations for evaluation use were controlled for in the study.

The results show that, contrary to expectations, EPL evaluations may be used for improving legislative proposals even if their recommendations are opposed by important political actors in the legislative process. The article also shows that a lack of salience of the policy field to which an EPL evaluation belongs in the eyes of the Commission, in combination with the institution’s ambition to reduce its legislative output, can be a sufficient explanation for the fact that some of the evaluations remain unused.

The article is part of a PhD project about the Commission’s EPL evaluations, which is conducted by Stijn van Voorst, MSc and supervised by prof. Ellen Mastenbroek, prof. Anne Meuwese, and prof. Sandra van Thiel. Besides the various ways in which the evaluations are used, the project also explores their methodological quality and the Commission’s motives for conducting them. The project is expected to be completed in the second half of 2018.

EPL use