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European Ombudsman announces new inquiry into Regulatory Scrutiny Board

Following a Corporate Europe Observatory complaint regarding the work of the European Commission's Regulatory Scrutiny Board, the office of the European Ombudsman has launched a new inquiry. This is welcomed by Corporate Europe Observatory which has long had concerns regarding the role of the Board within the Commission's 'better regulation' agenda which brings deregulatory pressures and an industry-friendly approach to policy-making. 

The Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) is a key component of the Commission's so-called 'better regulation' agenda which Corporate Europe Observatory has nicknamed "corporate-friendly deregulation in disguise". Specifically the Regulatory Scrutiny Board plays a crucial role in the development of the Commission's legislative proposals, scrutinising impact assessments on all proposed new legislation, and with the power to reject those that don't meet its expectations.

The 2022 report Inside Job by Corporate Europe Observatory, Bund, and Friends of the Earth Europe exposed how significant the RSB was in diluting the original ambition of the Corporate Sustainablity and Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). The RSB gave two negative opinions on the impact assessments for the CSDDD proposal, triggering internal Commission processes which ultimately weakened the initial intentions of the proposal, from a desire to hold EU companies to account for their overseas operations, to a weaker and far more industry-friendly outcome.

Our complaint to the European Ombudsman, submitted in early March 2023, included the following concerns about the RSB and its activities which will now be investigated:

  • its availability as a lobby target, despite rules banning it from discussing specific files with external stakeholders
  • the privileged access provided to groups that share its agenda
  • an absence of social and environmental policy expertise among RSB members

In reaction to the European Ombudsman's announcement, Vicky Cann, a Corporate Europe Observatory researcher said:

“It is excellent news that the European Ombudsman will investigate the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. This opaque and unaccountable body is overdue some external scrutiny. Our evidence shows that the RSB has been too available to industry and others with a deregulatory agenda, and is not properly transparent about its work. And we are very concerned that environmental and social imperatives to regulate are getting lost among concerns about 'competitiveness' and economic efficiencies."

Ultimately, Corporate Europe Observatory agrees with the European Environmental Bureau and NEF who have argued that there should be a rethink about regulation, no longer seeing it as a ‘burden’ as the ‘better regulation' agenda tends to do, but instead viewing it as a vital tool to achieve social, environmental, and equality objectives. These CSOs advocate for a “think sustainability first” principle to guide EU law-making to ensure we re-protect Europe for the challenges we face. We agree that there needs to be a totally different approach to regulation, in order to tackle the climate crisis, the cost of living emergency, and other barriers to delivering a more just Europe.

The European Ombudsman already has a case underway to investigate the Commission's refusal to give full public access to declarations of interests by RSB members.

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