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«Framework Contract for projects relating to Evaluation and Impact Assessment activities of Directorate General for Internal Market and Services ...»

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Framework Contract for projects

relating to Evaluation and Impact

Assessment activities of Directorate

General for Internal Market and


Evaluation of SOLVIT

Final Report

November 2011

P O Box 159


Kent TN14 5RJ

United Kingdom

Tel/fax: +44 (1959) 525122

Web site: www.cses.co.uk

Evaluation of SOLVIT



Executive Summary i

1. Introduction 1 Introduction 1 Overview of SOLVIT 1 Evaluation objectives 1 Research methodology 2 Structure of the report 2

2. SOLVIT and the context in which it operates 3 Legal framework 3 SOLVIT objectives 4 Intervention logic 5 Relationship with other problem solving systems set-up by the Commission Relationship with national systems 12 Scope of SOLVIT Relevance and potential growing demand for SOLVIT’s services 18 Summary

3. Management of SOLVIT 21 SOLVIT Centres 21 Positioning of the SOLVIT Centres 21 Staff resources in relation to caseload 22 Meetings and training 23 Reporting 23 Database 24 Summary 25

4. Operation of SOLVIT 26 Case handling 26 Cooperation with National Authorities 31 Legal Expertise 367 Sources of SOLVIT cases and awareness raising 41 Business cases 44 Views of Users Summary 56 5.

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SOLVIT and the context in which it operates

• SOLVIT was established to deal with cross border Internal Market problems by addressing specific issues arising from the engagement of EU citizens and businesses with national authorities without recourse to legal proceedings.

• SOLVIT is well recognised across various Commission departments, and in certain DGs, SOLVIT is used effectively and is integrated into current practices. However, in others it is less used, either because the individual DG deals with the issues internally or officials may not be aware of where SOLVIT could be most effective.

• The systems for EU Pilot (and CHAP) are not directly linked up with SOLVIT.

Further cooperation within the Commission and at national levels could encourage better filtering and efficient management of complaints, transferring cases and exchange of information.

• Your Europe Advice is providing a supporting role for SOLVIT in terms of signposting cases and providing legal advice to fill current gaps. Further exchange of information and knowledge on the progress of cases (such as access to the database) would help to reinforce the relationship.

• On the whole, SOLVIT offers a unique service amongst dispute resolution bodies. However, in some countries there is a degree of overlap on certain policy areas between SOLVIT and ombudsmen.

• The depth of stakeholder relations varies between SOLVIT and ombudsman, business organisations and consumer centres across the Network. Relations operate with stakeholders predominantly on the basis of transferring cases and are regarded as being mutually beneficial.

• The scope of SOLVIT is already rather broad as it deals with all cross border problems related to the misapplication of Internal Market rules by public authorities. SOLVIT therefore addresses a wide range of policy areas given its broad interpretation of the terms ‘cross border’ and Internal Market’. There is also a system of checks and balances that is built into the current scope as SOLVIT Centres (SCs) from two Member States need to jointly cooperate when resolving cases.. This being said, an extension of the scope could be taken forward to cover additional policy areas and issues. However at this stage given the current resources and demanding case load, it is currently not the right time to investigate this question further.

• The Internal Market is facilitating growth in migration for EU citizens as well as sustaining cross border business activity, which is likely to lead to greater demand for SOLVIT’s services. Enhancing the capacity of SOLVIT would

–  –  –

Management of SOLVIT

• SOLVIT Centres (SCs) are located in different parts of the public administration depending on the Member State. In certain countries, this offers the SC a degree of authority when engaging with national authorities.

In addition, Ministries of Economy / Business tend to be more openly supportive towards SCs if they concentrate on generating business cases.

• Over half of the SCs are understaffed in relation to their current caseload.

The issues of limited resources will need to be taken into account if SCs are expected to take on more cases and perform more tasks.

• Meetings and training organised by the Commission have been warmly received and are perceived as a key element of the functioning of the Network. These should be enhanced to help strengthen the capacity of the Network.

• The Annual Report is a useful tool to assess the evolution of SOLVIT.

However, it could have greater impact if steps were taken to develop further layers of analysis.

• There are plans to upgrade the database in the near future. The views of SCs are taken into account in order to ensure that the upgrade satisfies the needs of its principal users.

Operation of SOLVIT

• SC’s are generally speaking well organised and cooperative when jointly managing cases. However, a key weakness is when Home and Lead SCs disagree over the legal analysis of cases. Requests have therefore come forward to develop a stronger approach to resolving disagreements between SCs.

• Unresolved case may not be followed up automatically by SCs and it may be unclear who is responsible for them. This aspect needs to be firmed up so that unresolved cases are properly signposted and their progress tracked.

• Cooperation with national authorities tends to be positive and the informal mechanism for resolving issues is regarded as being effective. Yet for certain

–  –  –

Executive Summary cases and with certain national bodies SOLVIT lacks authority. This should be addressed through strengthened systems and legal resources.

• The staff profiles and skill sets of SCs vary quite significantly. To help strengthen the legal resources of SCs, future selection of SC staff should include the requirement of them having appropriate legal qualifications.

• The informal advice provided by the Commission experts is appreciated.

However, occasionally it fails to meet quite demanding SOLVIT deadlines and is sometimes not designed to compellingly address the circumstances surrounding a particular case.

• The user survey has demonstrated that SOLVIT cases are routed via internet searches or by signposting by other organisations or networks. Media / press campaigns have attracted only a small number of cases. Given the costs of public awareness activities, future approaches should concentrate on generating more internet traffic or through cooperation with stakeholders.

• On the whole, SCs have not carried out promotional activities for business to the extent envisaged by the Strategy Paper (2009). This may be because of a lack of resources.

• Businesses have mentioned that if they were aware of SOLVIT then they would if necessary request its services. At the same time, business may not be attracted to SOLVIT as informal approaches to addressing cross border cases may not change the position taken by a national authority.

• The user survey has illustrated highly diverging opinions on the performance of SOLVIT. Whilst overall SOLVIT is providing good and in certain cases excellent services, a significant minority of users are unsatisfied. In many cases, the reason for people's occasional dissatisfaction is because they are disappointed with the outcome of their case. They therefore hoped to get more out of EU law than they could. To address this issue, improving SC service delivery would help to further improve SOLVIT’s image.

Costs and benefits

• The costs of the SOLVIT network in the year 2010 were approximately €5.3 million.

• Benefits are of course both monetary and non-monetary. Between a quarter and a third of citizens, and a third and a half of businesses made an estimate of monetary benefits when making a SOLVIT application;

–  –  –

Executive Summary

• Whilst some benefits are obviously overestimated (and have been excluded from calculations) in most cases applicants’ seem to have made a reasonable estimate of benefits;

• Total quantifiable benefits in each of the years 2008 to 2010 were of the order of €30 million;

• Some SOLVIT cases result in changes to procedure or legislation. Whilst it is not possible to quantify the results precisely with any degree of reliability, the evidence suggests that the continuing benefit from SOLVIT each year will be several times greater than the benefits from new cases in that year.

SOLVIT Centre Performance Assessment

• The strongest SCs, in terms of staffing adequacy and in-house legal resources, have achieved better management performance results overall than their counterparts. There are though some exceptions as certain SCs that have low staff resources and / or in house legal expertise are still achieving a good level of performance. However, having an even policy across the board to strengthen resources would realise better results for the Network as a whole (this assessment has however not taken into account other factors, which were not possible to quantify in an equitable manner across the SOLVIT Network).

• The collection of management performance data needs to be monitored.

High standards for accurate inputting of data needs to be maintained.

iv Evaluation of SOLVIT Section


This document sets out the final report prepared by the Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services (CSES) in respect of an “Evaluation of SOLVIT”. This section contains the introduction to the evaluation of SOLVIT and contains an overview of SOLVIT together with the legal background. It also sets out the evaluation objectives and the detailed structure of the report.

1.1 Introduction This document sets out CSES’ final report for the evaluation of SOLVIT, the on-line problem solving network in which EU Member States work together to solve without legal proceedings problems caused by the misapplication of Internal Market law by public authorities.

1.2 Overview of SOLVIT SOLVIT was established in 2002 with the specific remit of providing out of courts solutions (by informal means) to cross border complaints brought forward by consumers and businesses regarding the incorrect application of EU Internal Market Law by public authorities. Under the auspices of DG Internal Market and Services (DG MARKT), SOLVIT operates via a network of SOLVIT Centres (SCs) at national level which work together by agreement and without legal proceedings and without charge to the applicant. There is a SOLVIT centre run by national administrations in every EU Member State and the EEA/EFTA countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein1). The national SOLVIT centres are supported by DG MARKT which supplies support services including training, workshops, promotion materials and activities, a database of cases, informal legal advice and broader support to ensure the successful operation of the network.

SOLVIT only deals with cases which are not the subject of legal proceedings at national or Community level. An applicant remains free to launch such proceedings at any time.

1.3 Evaluation objectives The objectives of the evaluation, as set out in the terms of reference, are to analyse the organisation of SOLVIT and its achievements to date, and to evaluate its relevance, efficiency and effectiveness. The results of this analysis will support the provision of a set of conclusions for the further reinforcement of SOLVIT. The key evaluation questions are set out in the terms of reference and address the following


• Relevance – whether SOLVIT network addresses a real and existing need and whether it is the best way of meeting this need. In this context, the specific mandate of SOLVIT and its relationship to other problem-solving tools is also considered;

The EFTA / EEA countries were not included in the scope of this evaluation Evaluation of SOLVIT Section


• Effective operation and organisation of SOLVIT – assessed both in quantitative and qualitative terms and the level of satisfaction of stakeholders (clients, SOLVIT centres, public authorities, Commission);

• Efficiency/ organisation of SOLVIT – the costs of SOLVIT against its outputs and results, and the relationship between SOLVIT and other problem-solving networks and organisations at EU level, and with the national ombudsmen, as well as relations with other consumer and business assistance centres.

1.4 Research methodology The fieldwork for this evaluation was carried out between February 2011 and April

2011. It includes interviews of SOLVIT centres, Commission officials and external parties at national level. It also included an analysis of documentation, SOLVIT cases in the database and two on line surveys.

Details of the interviews are contained in Appendix A. An on line survey of SOLVIT users attracted 1834 responses (see Appendix B). An online survey of national government departments involved in a SOLVIT case has attracted 53 responses (see Appendix C).

1.5 Structure of the report This report has the following structure

• Section 1 provides an overview of SOLVIT, its legal structure and the objectives of the report;

• Section 2 considers SOLVIT and the context in which it operates, including an intervention logic, SOLVIT’s objectives and the relationship of SOLVIT with other systems of dispute resolution;

• Section 3 considers the management of SOLVIT;

• Section 4 deals with the operation of SOLVIT in dealing with cases;

• Section 5 deals with the costs of SOLVIT and benefits;

• Section 6 provides a performance assessment of individual SOLVIT centres;

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