A broader public is probably not aware of the existence of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) and the work it does. Yet this body has far-reaching powers in the European legislative process. The work of the RSB drew attention in the course of the Commission's proposal on the EU Supply Chain Act, which was delayed and watered down by the RSB. A study commissioned by the Chamber of Labour and LobbyControl now sheds light on the role of the RSB in the EU legislative process and identifies a need for reform. At the invitation of MEP René Repasi (S&D) and MEP Anna Cavazzini (Greens), the study was presented in the EU Parliament on 7 June 2023.
The establishment of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board stems from the Better Regulation Agenda 2015. The RSB currently consists of six experts. They assess the quality of draft impact assessments and fitness checks carried out in advance of major EU legislative proposals. It thus has a great influence on which legal acts are ultimately submitted by the Commission, as well as on their content. If an RSB opinion is negative, the initiative must be fundamentally revised by the responsible departments of the EU Commission. In the period examined by the study, this was the case in 39% of the reviews in the first round. In the case of a second negative assessment, the RSB even has a de facto veto power: then only the Vice-President of the EU Commission responsible for Institutional Relations and Foresight can obtain a follow-up to the initiative.
Study: Non-transparent working methods and economic bias
As Prof. Brigitte Pircher, author of the study commissioned by the Chamber of Labour and LobbyControl states, a predominant consideration of economic effects is recognisable both in the expertise covered by the RSB body and in the evaluation criteria used. According to the study, real independence of the board seems questionable. The lack of expertise and assessment criteria in the areas of social, environmental or consumer policy is worrying, not least against the background of the EU's ambitious sustainability goals, the European Green Deal and the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In addition to the EU supply chain law, the right to repair, wage transparency and protection against violence were other legal proposals that were critically assessed by the RSB.
However, it is not only the strong focus on economic criteria that is problematised in the study, but also the non-transparent working methods of the RSB. Neither the public nor MEPs have access to the decision-making processes. The contacts of the RSB with lobbyists often remain hidden; this feeds the fear that EU legislation is influenced "through the back door" in the interest of large industries. Against this background, Prof. Pircher calls for a revision of the RSB and puts forward concrete policy recommendations. These include (1) rethinking the Better Regulation Agenda and the RSB Toolbox, (2) doing away with classifying between positive versus negative opinions on impact assessments, (3) abolishing RSB's de facto veto power, and (4) enhanced transparency and easier access to RSB documents.
European decision-makers: Great need for action
The shortcomings and dangers associated with the Regulatory Scrutiny Board have also been raised for some time by the two MEPs René Repasi (S&D) and Anna Cavazzini (Greens), who invited to the joint event. MEP René Repasi stressed that the decision on who has to bear certain "burdens" must lie with the legislator; this cannot be delegated to bodies without democratic legitimacy. MEP Anna Cavazzini called for the ideas collected on an evaluation of the RSB to be followed up in the EU Parliament and discussed at a high level with the EU Commission.
The EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly is also currently examining the work of the RSB. The ongoing investigation concerns not only the interaction with stakeholders but also the composition of the board. O'Reilly expects the results of the ongoing investigations for the end of June 2023. From AK’s the point of view, it is in any case clear that the role and function of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board as well as the overarching concept of the Better Regulation Agenda need to be thoroughly rethought. After all, the RSB has been in operation for eight years, but an independent evaluation has been a long time coming, said Frank Ey from AK Vienna.
EU-Commission: Regulatory Scrutiny Board
EU-Ombudsman: The composition of the European Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board and how it interacts with interest representatives
A&W Blog: Das Regulatory Scrutiny Board: How big is the influence on EU legislation? (Germany only)
AK EUROPA Position Paper: Better regulation
AK Wien & LobbyControl: The EU’s Commission Regulatory Scrutiny Board: Better Regulation or Biased Influence on Legislation?