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How the European Commission Makes the Better Regulation Agenda Work: Outsourcing and the Involvement of Private Consultants in Online Public Consultations

Environmental Policy
European Union
Governance
Policy Analysis
Regulation
Andreea Nastase
Maastricht Universiteit
Andreea Nastase
Maastricht Universiteit
Elissaveta Radulova
Maastricht Universiteit

Abstract

The European Union has been committed to Good Governance for more than 20 years. A recent expression of this commitment is the so-called 2015 Better Regulation Agenda, a set of regulatory reforms aimed at rendering the EU law-making process more evidence-based, transparent, and open to public participation. In implementing the Better Regulation Agenda, the EU policy-making arena has witnessed a substantial growth in internal and external support structures across all stages of the policy-making cycle. As a result, work pressure has significantly increased for the European Commission, the institution responsible for the formulation of policy initiatives and legislative drafts in the EU. The Commission has responded by outsourcing various administrative, analytical and event management tasks to external third parties, which currently step into the policy-making process at multiple stages. These actors – usually private consultancies – provide services such as analyzing stakeholder input provided via public consultations, ex-ante and ex-post policy evaluations, and the pre-drafting of policy proposals. They represent a distinctive and controversial type of administrative actor, as they operate largely outside of the public’s scrutiny, in the periphery of formal procedures, and their accountability is at best unclear. This paper analyses the practice of outsourcing as it pertains to the open public consultations (OPCs) organized by the European Commission. Focusing on the environmental policy field during the term of the Juncker Commission, it asks why, how, and to what effect are private consultants involved in the organization and management of OPCs. The analysis reveals that the presence of consultants leads to the de-politicization of OPCs, by emphasizing the pursuit of scientific rigour in drafting questionnaires and processing and interpreting responses, to the detriment of actual engagement with stakeholders. The paper draws on documentary analysis (process-tracing) and semi-structured expert interviews with Commission officials and consultancy representatives.