The European commission has taken the first tentative steps in its campaign to make EU businesses more competitive by cutting regulation. And there’s a long way to go …
Cutting down on red tape is part of the European commission’s miracle cure to boost global competitiveness and restore confidence in the European Union’s commitment to business. The better regulation strategy aims to relieve business and citizens from unnecessary administrative burdens and should be welcomed.
From the start of its mandate almost a year ago, the commission announced its intention to streamline EU legislation and to renew the focus on economic growth and jobs. Its first – by its own admission, small – step has been to scrutinise 185 pieces of pending legislation against three criteria: consistency with the EU’s competitiveness agenda, how long a proposal has been held up and whether it has been subjected to an impact assessment. The result is an announcement to withdraw 68 planned laws – one-third of what is on the EU table.
So what will we be losing? One draft directive that failed the sensible test was health and safety laws obliging employers to assess exposure risk for natural and artificial light. Media coverage ridiculed the so-called “tan ban”, which would have required builders to cover up on sunny days.
A big question mark has also appeared next to the draft law on temporary workers. This is the plan to give temps the same working conditions and rights as comparable permanent workers after six weeks in the job. It has been blocked at national government level since June 2003, most notably by the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Germany. The commission has decided to review the proposal in the context of the draft directive on opening up the market for cross-border services. Although hugely controversial itself, the services directive does not feature among those to scrapped or reworked. Neither should it.
The next step in the better regulation campaign will be to simplify and update the 80,000 pages of EU law that already exist. The construction and waste laws have been picked out as specific targets
A few proposals are to be kept but subjected to further analysis. These include one from 2003 on shipments of waste, which the commission believes can be reworked to reduce the regulatory burden on business without compromising environmental protection. We shall see.
The next step in the better regulation campaign will be to focus on simplifying and updating the 80,000 pages of EU law that already exist. The construction and waste laws have been picked out as specific targets for simplification in an industrial policy statement published by Günter Verheugen, the European commissioner for enterprise. The commission is running an internet consultation looking for input on where red tape and over-regulation can be cut, and you can have your say until the end of the year.
In the same way that less regulation is not necessarily better regulation, Verheugen stressed that this exercise is “not about less Europe but about a better Europe”. Clearly Europe is not just the European commission. The 25 member states will have to be committed not only to the same reform agenda but also to better national implementation of the legislation they all signed up to in the first place.
Jill Craig is head of European policy at the RICS’ Brussels office. Email: Jcraig@rics.org