ESO was established in 1981 as an independent think tank under the Ministry of Finance, with the task of formulating and seeking answers to questions of major importance for public economics. It was closed down in June 2003, and reestablished in December 2007. In total, around 250 reports have been published in ESO’s publication series.

When ESO was closed down, a new group focusing on environmental studies, the Expert Group for Environmental Studies (EMS) was initiated. EMS closed down in autumn 2012 having published a total of 27 reports. In 2004, an internal working group – the Expert Group for Economic Studies (ESS) – was formed at the Ministry of Finance with a similar area of responsibility as ESO previously had, although the aspect of political independence was not particularly emphasised. The working group closed down in summer 2007, having published a total of 11 reports.