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Impact assessment

All policies have a certain core aim they intend to achieve. However, too often they can also have unintended effects on other policies. Ignoring these can result in policy inefficiencies and inconsistencies; in the worst cases, it could set off developments that would not be sustainable in the long run. Impact assessments try to identify and quantify both intended and unintended impacts of policy proposals with a special emphasis on identifying potential trade-offs.

Committed as it is to ensuring that the Commission's policy proposals have a sound analytical basis, the Economic and Financial Affairs DG has always been a keen advocate of impact assessment.

Impact assessment aims to support the development of better policies by dividing the process into a number of distinct stages. Any well-designed proposal must start from a solid understanding of the issue it intends to address. From this starting point, the impact assessment develops the proposal by defining clear objectives and possible policy options to achieve them. It then identifies the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and analyses their likely economic, environmental and social impacts.

The contribution of DG ECFIN

DG ECFIN played a leading role in drafting the Commission’s impact assessment guidelines. These offer detailed advice to Commission staff responsible for developing policy proposals. It also takes part in impact assessments for a wide range of policies.

In addition, DG ECFIN supports the work of the Impact Assessment Board. This assesses the quality of draft final Impact Assessment Reports and makes recommendations to DGs to improve their quality. The members of the Board are Directors from the Economic and Financial Affairs, Employment, Enterprise, and Environment DGs; the Deputy Secretary-General of the European Commission chairs the board.

Impact assessment is an important aid to political decision-making, not a substitute for it. It informs decision-makers of the likely impacts of proposals, but leaves it up to them to take the decisions. An Impact Assessment Report accompanies each Commission proposal, and sets out the reasons why the Commission believes the action it is proposing is the right approach.

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