Government hopes to push through services directive and emissions scheme, and end 48-hour limit on workers

The government has said it will use its presidency of the European Union to free British industry from red tape and improve its competitiveness.

The pledge comes in a command document entitled Prospects for the European Union in 2005, issued by the government after it took the helm of the EU at the beginning of this month. This sets out the UK’s priorities, as well as the main issues that it intends to take forward during its presidency.

Issues of importance to the construction industry include:

Workers would retain ‘the freedom to work more than 48 hours a week’

  • Plans to reduce the amount of regulation coming out of Brussels. The government will try to ensure that all regulatory proposals in the European commission’s 2005 work programme are tested for their impact on competitiveness. A programme to reduce the volume and complexity of EU legislation will be launched in October.
  • The government intends to press ahead with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme directive. This is intended to allow European companies to compete with their rivals in countries that have refused to sign the Kyoto agreement on limiting carbon emissions.
  • It also intends to push through the services directive. This encourages the free trade of services throughout the European single market by allowing service providers to comply with the rules of their country of origin rather than the country where the service is being sold. It has proved particularly controversial in the construction sector because of fears over its effect on health and safety.
  • A long-standing goal for the government is the amending of the working time directive, which limits the working week to a maximum of 48 hours. The paper says: “The UK will continue to work for a European solution that preserves the freedom of individual workers to choose to work more than 48 hours per week and mitigates the impact of rulings from the European Court of Justice on governments’ ability to deliver high-quality health and public services.”

The ODPM will also push its sustainable communities agenda. This will end with an EU Ministerial Informal Meeting in Bristol in December, where the ODPM wants to establish a roadmap to promote sustainable communities in Europe.

Further negotiations are also planned on the waste management directive and the EU strategy on the urban environment, which sets out the problems and challenges facing Europe’s urban areas. It focuses on urban environmental management, urban transport, sustainable construction and Urban Design.