As recent research conclusions and MEP complaints showcase the European Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board’s (RSB) alleged bias and lack of transparency within the EU legislative process, the European Ombudsman is set to investigate.

The RSB is an independent body set up in 2015 that provides the Commission with quality control of impact assessments, fitness checks, and evaluations of policy proposals.

The RSB can issue a negative or positive opinion when examining impact assessments and evaluations. If the board gives a negative opinion, the Commission must revise the impact assessment or evaluation and include the suggestions made by the Board. 

A study commissioned by the Vienna Chamber of Commerce and Lobby Control argues that the RSB holds a de facto veto power because if the RSB issues a second negative opinion on an impact assessment, only the vice-president for interinstitutional relations and foresight may submit the policy proposal to the college of commissioners, to decide whether or not to go ahead.

“For a non-elected board where experts sit there, this is a too strong role because that actually means that it [the board] can very much delay legislative proposals”, Dr Brigitte Pircher, in charge of the study, told EURACTIV. 

Pircher added that the main problem is that all the processes of the RSB’s evaluation and the interaction with the different Commission’s general directorates are non-transparent, as there is no access to the documents during the process, only when the proposal is officially presented – not even for MEPs or Council diplomats. 

Another main criticism of the study is that the board has focused mainly on economic criteria when analysing the assessments instead of the social and environmental impact. Pircher also criticised the contacts between RSB members and lobbying organisations. 

“What we could basically see very much is that there have been contacts, lobby contacts between the big industries and the board, like emails, letters”, Pircher said. 

The Ombudsman is investigating 

The European Ombudsman is carrying out two investigations on the RSB. The first concerns how the board interacts with special interest representatives and whether the board’s composition is diverse enough, including social and environmental policy expertise, not just economic.

The second investigation concerns the lack of transparency of the body, as the Commission failed to make public the declarations of interest of the RSB members. 

“Given its influential role at the early stage of the legislative process, it is important that the Board operates in a sufficiently transparent manner and that its members possess a broad base of expertise,” a European Ombudsman spokesperson told EURACTIV.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is scheduled to intervene in an event at the European Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, discussing the results of Picher’s study, hosted by Greens/EFA MEP Anna Cavazzini and S&D MEP René Repasi. 

MEPs: More transparency and less bias or dissolution

MEPs have noticed the RSB’s influence in legislation, as they see their files of interest blocked and delayed and a technocratic body playing a role in the EU legislative process. 

“As I have been closely working on two important files the RSB has given a negative opinion on – the CSDDD [corporate sustainability due diligence Directive] and the Right to Repair – I have been following the activities of the Board for some time now”, Repasi told EURACTIV.

The RSB’s negative opinions, Repasi added, saw these key files for consumer protection frozen for months at a critical time, shortly before the EU elections. 

“It is always easier to quantify possible profit losses for business, rather than benefits for health or well-being”, Greens/EFA MEP Anna Cavazzini told EURACTIV, accusing the RSB of being “biased” by only focusing on economic metrics when scrutinising legislation. She added that citizens ultimately suffer the impact of this bias via “weaker legislation, weaker protection, delays”. 

In October 2022, Repasi and Cavazzini requested the Commission access to the documents explaining why the RSB put the Right to Repair Proposal on hold, but the answer did not clarify.

The lack of transparency irked the EU lawmakers, as transparency “plays a key role in creating democratic legitimacy,” Repasi said, adding, “A Board that cannot be held accountable by the legislators should not be able to put important European legislation on hold. Either there is full transparency of the activities of the Regulatory Scrutiny Board, or it must be abolished – for the sake of the Parliament’s political prerogatives!”

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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