EASY-ECO Manchester Conference
Conference Theme: Impact Assessment for a New Europe and Beyond
The expansion of the European Union to embrace its ten new member states,
along with new neighbourhood initiatives with other countries to the east
and south, and economic partnerships with developing countries, are occurring
in parallel with significant new developments in public policy formulation
and decision-making. These include greater emphasis on evidence-based
decision-making, better governance and governance reform, and the adoption
of sustainable development as the overarching objective for public policy.
Impact assessment (or evaluation) is playing an increasingly important
role in all these areas. This applies to the European Commission itself,
to national governments, local government, NGOs and the private sector,
in EU member states and beyond.
What lessons can be learned from experience in each field of application
that are relevant to others? What techniques developed in different areas
can be applied successfully in others? In what ways do approaches need
to be different in different areas, in order to meet specific needs, and
to complement each other in their separate contributions to an overall
goal? Can common principles be identified which help to achieve this?
All new EC directives and major policy initiatives are now subject to
the Commission's recently introduced procedures for preliminary and extended
impact assessments. The EU has commissioned sustainability impact assessments
of trade policy, both for WTO agreements and for regional trade agreements
in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Its directive on strategic environmental
assessment is now in force, requiring SEAs of development plans in all
member states, as well as the earlier directive for environmental impact
assessment of development projects.
Most member state governments have introduced regulatory impact assessment
procedures for their own policy-making processes, and candidate countries
are being encouraged and helped to do the same. The EC's development assistance
programmes and those of member states, as well as the EU's internal structural
funds, are also subject to impact assessment or evaluation procedures,
including ex-post assessment of the effectiveness of the assistance given.
Similar techniques are being used by local governments through Local Agenda
21 initiatives, and by private sector corporations in sustainability reporting
and environmental management systems.
This increasing use of impact assessment as a tool for strengthening
public policy-making and its integration with corporate responsibility
presents many challenges. The need for better evidence in decision-making,
for greater civil society involvement in governance, and for closer alignment
of policy with the goal of sustainable development, is well understood
in principle, but less readily applied in practice. Innovative techniques
are required, the accumulating experience needs to be shared, and a greater
degree of coherence needs to be developed. In many areas, policy-making
processes themselves need to be adapted, to make more effective use of
the evolving techniques.