Officials accuse Timmermans of delaying EU health, food safety rules

Frans Timmermans sent a waning letter [European Commission]

A growing number of officials in the European Commission’s health unit are complaining that health and food safety legislation is being delayed due to slow decision-making from Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s First Vice-President in charge of Better Regulation.

The Commission has delayed publication of a number of reports related to health and consumer issues or food safety lately, sparking internal and public criticism.

Some of the postponed reports include an evaluation on whether the EU should include alcohol labelling under its food and nutrition labelling rules, meat origin labelling, a definition of endocrine disruptors, and a report on the benefits of regulating trans fatty acids in foods at EU level.

Speaking about the latter report, one official working at the Commission’s health unit, DG Sante, apologised for the delay last week.

“This has to do with the new working methods in the Commission. There are a lot of layers and there is a Vice-President… We have to ask for the Vice-President’s permission in order to schedule and to plan an initiative. All that in practice takes time, and we have to get used to this new way of working,” the official said, referring to Timmermans.

>>Read: Delayed Commission report on alcohol labelling frustrates beer industry

The Commission adopted its work programme in December, setting out the actions it intends to take in 2015 to create jobs and growth. As part of the preparation, the Commission examined 450 proposals currently awaiting approval by the European Parliament and Council, and proposed to withdraw or amend 80 of them.

The Commission also announced that it wanted to build on its Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT) by having a dedicated Commissioner and unit committed to removing regulatory burdens, thereby creating an “environment conducive to investment”.

Another Commission official from DG Sante highlighted delayed legislation related to pesticides, as well as the executive’s failure to deliver a proposal for a definition on endocrine disruptors. The postponement on this definition has already led Sweden to sue the Commission for breaching a bargaining agreement.

>>Read: Pressure grows on Commission to publish criteria on endocrine disruptors

“With many issues, the final decision has not yet been taken. The Commissioners were asked to communicate a number of legislations for review, but decisions have not yet been taken and we don’t know when they will,” the official said.

Roberto Bertollini, the WHO Representative at the EU, and Chief Scientist of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said at an event on safe food in Brussels last Thursday (16 April) that he had seen positive signs from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has put an emphasis on food safety. However, Bertollini said he is concerned about the implications and simplification of the Better Regulation approach.

“I don’t like if the simplification of regulation means deregulation, which I think in some cases are not very good decisions to take. Specifically, there are some issues related to safety in a broad sense. For example, the issue of trans fat, which is a component that comes from industrial processes, which is very dangerous for people’s health and it is not regulated at the European level. I think this is an issue that should be addressed. Deregulation and simplification is welcomed, provided that this doesn’t jeopardise the safety of food,” Bertollini said.

On Tuesday (21 April), the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) sent an open letter to Juncker, urging the Commission “to publish, without further delay, the report on the presence of trans fats in foods and in the overall diet of the European Union population as required by regulation on the provision of food information to consumers.”

An EU official working for Timmermans rejected the notion that better regulation equals deregulation, or no regulation.

“This is something that we strongly reject. All the Commission’s DGs are also working on the future work programmes and the longer-term plans. There is no truth to this idea that Mr Timmermans is delaying things or slowing things down,” the official told EURACTIV.

  • Autumn 2015: Report on alcohol labelling by the Commission to be published.

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