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THE VIEW The Voice from Brussels Konstandinos Diamandouros

Are policymakers really interested in evidence-based decision making?

Konstandinos Diamandouros is head of office at the European Union Road Federation.;

composite and complex issues, yet most of the time, lack objective data that can help guide them through the process and make the right decision that serves the community best. Putting myself in the shoes of an MEP


in the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism committee, it is practically impossible to have enough technical knowledge to fully comprehend the vast array of topics dealt with inside that chamber…unless one is as talented as Leonardo Da Vinci, who in addition to being a supremely talented artist, also mastered several branches of science. But for better or for worse, there are not too many Da Vincis in this world.

LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE Tus, there is a need for developing tools and methods that can guide policymakers through the maze of possible alternatives. Tis is where the CONSENSUS project comes in. Given that policy planners are always faced with trade-offs in any decision that they make, the objective of the project is to define modeling tools that can, in an easy and comprehensive manner, provide policy makers with optimal choices based on a number of relevant criteria. For example, if policy makers

wish to construct a road, they have to take into account a number of factors amongst others, the cost of the investment, its socio-economic return in terms of social cohesion and economic trade, environmental


olicymakers oſten complain that they are expected to make decisions about extremely

aspects, safety considerations and so on. In a nutshell, CONSENSUS should be able to provide you with a list of alternatives quickly and simply based on hard facts and following a scientifically coherent method, enabling what is commonly referred to as ‘evidence-based policy making’. However, having already spent

several years following transport policy, I actually posed myself the question: are policymakers truly interested in evidence-based policy making? My experience to date has suggested

that when it comes to transport policy, MEPs and Commission officials have, more oſten than not, chosen to pursue policy-based evidence making. In other words, they are already convinced of a policy option and, as a result, tend to selectively look at data that can justify their policy options. Take for example, the policy of modal

shiſt advocated by the Commission back in 2001. In plain and undiplomatic terms, it has been a flop. By 2010, and aſter 9 years of modal shiſt efforts, the percentage of freight being transported from rail to road had actually increased by 3 per cent. In other words, we experienced reverse modal shiſt. Adding further evidence to the

clear picture painted by statistics, the European Court of Auditors issued a damning report about the European Commission’s Marco Polo programme, whose objective was to shiſt freight from road to rail. In another nutshell, it found the programme largely ineffective and recommended that it is discontinued. Against this background, one

would have assumed a change in tack

by EU policy makers but it was not meant to be. With renewed vigour, the Commission White Paper for Transport identified modal shiſt as one of its principal aims. More specifically, they wish to see 50 per cent of road freight transport shiſt to other modes by 2050. Why do policy makers bang on

about evidence-based policy making, only then to turn their back on it and make a decision based on conviction? In my opinion, the answer lies in the ways that humans operate.

When it comes to transport policy MEPs and EC officials

more often than not chose

to purse

policy-based evidence making

FATAL ATTRACTION Whether we like it or not, people are attracted to politics and positions of high responsibility because they are attracted to power. In other words, they want to be in a position that enables them to have the final word that determines the fate of others. Te problem with evidenced-based

policy making is that it essentially takes away the power of deciding and transforms decision makers into simple administrators. In other words, it deprives policy makers of their favourite task – making decisions and exercising power. It also demands that people set aside their deeply embedded convictions. Tere is no clear way of going

around this given that the so-called ‘human factor’ will forever be part of life. What we can nevertheless hope is to have politicians who, based on the available evidence, can set aside personal ambitions and convictions and see the bigger picture. In other words, we need ‘enlightened policy makers’ Judging by how badly policy makers

have managed the economic crisis, these unfortunately are in short supply today. Yet, hope always dies last.

Vol 8 No 3 Europe/Rest of the World

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