Problem analysis and identification of policy options

Public policies revolve around an on-going cycle of assessment, development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. New policies or policy modifications depend upon accurate and well-justified assessments of the underlying problems they aim to address, setting the framework for eventual policy action. Milieu frequently carries out these studies, aiming to understand issues such as the root causes of policy problems; the key stakeholder groups they impact; the geographical distribution across the EU Member States; and to identify possible solutions that can take the form of policy action at the appropriate level. Visual tools such as problem trees are often used to understand the causal relationships between findings and prioritise them, often via expert or stakeholder workshops.

The development of policy options to be taken at EU level requires a solid understanding of EU law, including the basis for the EU to act, as well as the justification for an EU approach over action taken directly at national or local level. Policy options may be mutually exclusive alternatives set up to address a single objective, or combinations of measures that complement each other. Types of options typically include legally binding rules; ‘softer’ regulation such as voluntary agreements and technical standards; education, information and awareness-raising. Many Milieu studies lead to the development of recommendations that form the basis for policy action.

The following are a few examples:


The Europe 2020 Strategy stresses that transport infrastructure networks are a key driver for growth and jobs. To achieve this, the European Commission renewed its Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) policy in 2013 to support the implementation and development of a Europe-wide network of all transport modes, with the goals of contributing to cohesion across all regions of Europe, the efficiency and sustainability of the transport system, and increasing benefits for users. Nevertheless, TEN-T infrastructure development has since been faced with several obstacles arising out of complex regulatory and administrative arrangements, which increase the costs, delays and uncertainty.

To identify and address the barriers in regulatory and administrative processes, in 2015 DG MOVE awarded Milieu a contract to deliver a study on permitting and facilitating the preparation of TEN-T core network projects. The study delivered the Commission with recommendations on how to address these barriers and proposed several policy options with a view to streamlining the permitting procedures of TEN-T core network projects. The Commission subsequently drew on these policy options when preparing the 2018 Proposal for a Regulation on streamlining measures for advancing the realisation of the trans-European transport network.

As readily accessible oil and gas reserves are becoming progressively limited, the energy supply industry is turning more to unconventional reserves, which were previously too complex or too expensive to extract. As a result, permission is now being sought in many EU Member States for exploratory works and to bring projects forward for hydraulic fracturing and extraction of shale gas. In 2011 the European Commission undertook a series of studies on the potential environment and climate implications of possible future shale gas production in Europe. As part of this effort, Milieu analysed the suitability of EU legislation to minimise the impacts of shale gas exploitation and proposed recommendations to address gaps in the legal framework.

The study fed into the development of the Commission’s 2014 Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons using high-volume hydraulic fracturing (2014/70/EU). The principles relate to strategic environmental assessment, environmental impact assessment, exploration and production permits, site selection, baseline studies before starting operations, spill prevention in the design and construction of the installation, adequate infrastructure, operational requirements, the use of chemical substances and water, monitoring, environmental liability and financial guarantee, administrative capacity, closure obligations and the dissemination of information.

The Milieu team later contributed to a workshop organised by the Petitions committee of the European Parliament in response to several citizens’ petitions on the development of shale gas in the EU and supported the Commission to review the Recommendation after 18 months.

In the context of the EU Raw Materials Initiative, a strategy aimed at promoting a sustainable supply of raw materials for the EU, the European Commission and Greenland agreed to cooperate in order to improve Greenland’s knowledge of and capacity to manage and exploit its mineral wealth and to promote the EU’s sustainable access to these materials.

In this context, the purpose of this contract was to carry out an in-depth analysis of EU needs with regard to cooperation with Greenland and identify a cooperation concept with concrete policy and project recommendations in several areas for cooperation: capacity building, environment & social issues, geological knowledge and investment and infrastructure climate. The work included an analysis of Greenland’s raw materials potential and the needs of EU downstream users, as well as risks posed by greater extraction on the environment and in terms of development, as well as for the identification and assessment of EU policy and project options.  The resulting recommendations supported the eventual joint declaration on relations and a spending programme for the EU-Greenland Partnership, funded through the EU’s general budget.