European Union regulation is strangling economic growth and costing the continent billions of euros, according to a British government report on Tuesday (14 October) that Prime Minister David Cameron hopes will bolster his case for reform of the 28-nation bloc.
Cameron set up the review of EU red tape in June, addressing one of the biggest grievances of British eurosceptics who complain that the bloc's rules are often petty, interfering and expensive to implement.
"All too often, EU rules are a handicap for firms, hampering their efforts to succeed," Cameron said of the report. "There are lots of simple and practical ways to cut EU red tape and save businesses across Europe tens of billions of euros."
Reducing red tape will be central to Cameron's campaign to reshape the EU and Britain's place in Europe before a promised referendum on its membership of a group it joined 40 years ago.
His chances of winning a second term at the next election in 2015 depend in part on convincing wavering Conservative voters not to defect to the UK Independence Party, whose call to leave the EU could split the centre-right vote and benefit the opposition Labour party.
Cameron said the report, compiled by six business leaders, suggested companies were forced to spend too much time complying with "pointless, burdensome and costly regulations".
The report made more than 30 recommendations to reduce regulation, in areas from shale gas extraction, licensing medicines and environmental safeguards to paid maternity leave and limits on working hours.
Scrapping the rule that forces companies to keep written records of health and safety risk assessments could save companies across the EU around €2.7 billion, it said, while abolishing EU barriers to trade in services could add an extra 1.8% to the single market's gross domestic product.
Trade union leaders have described Cameron's investigation into European regulation as "anti-EU rhetoric" that would erode workers' basic rights.
Trailing in the polls before the election, Cameron will send a copy of the report to every European leader and press his case at next week's meeting of the European Council in Brussels, a spokeswoman said. His argument will focus on making Europe more competitive, she added.
Since joining the EU's forerunner in 1973, British Eurosceptics have grumbled about "meddling Eurocrats" in Brussels imposing rules on them. Anti-EU newspapers ridicule and sometimes distort the details, prompting the European Commission to issue rebuttals on its own "Euro Myths" website.
In May, Cameron attacked a European Commission plan to ban restaurants from serving olive oil in jugs or dipping bowls as bizarre. The proposal was later dropped.
The Commission said earlier this month it would review existing EU laws and be careful when writing new ones.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's executive, said it had cut the cost of administrative burdens by €32.3 billion over the last five years and scrapped 5,590 legal acts.
Malcolm Harbour MEP has welcomed the publication today (Tuesday) of a report on EU red tape produced for Downing Street by a business-led taskforce.
The Chairman of the European Parliament's Single Market Committee said: "This initiative is a breath of fresh air and offers a real insight into the regulatory burden felt by enterprises small and large."
The report, produced for the Prime Minister by a team of business figures, outlines 30 key proposals to roll back EU red tape, based on evidence from more than 100 firms across Europe. It also sets out ideas a for a longer term agenda for action to make the EU work better for business.
Harbour said: "I welcome this expert contribution which completely supports the EU reform agenda, where the UK is taking the lead. "In particular, in June the European Parliament supported, by a huge majority, my Committee's resolution on boosting the digital single market, a key demand of the report. We have set out a clear agenda for creating jobs and growth, and I hope these proposals will be endorsed at next week's European Council."
He added that the report echoed moves by reformers in the European Parliament, including members of the Single market Committee, to roll back, simplify and limit the impact of burdensome and over-complicated regulation. "It also chimes closely with the REFIT initiative, where the Commission has made clear commitments to reduce the existing red tape burden. I am pleased that they are already planning to withdraw a number of intrusive proposals criticised in the expert report," he said
A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda in January when Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.
Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.
- May 2014: European elections
- Autumn 2014: Scottish independence referendum
- 2015: British elections
- 2017: Referendum in the UK on EU membership as proposed by Cameron