The Brief: Has ‘better regulation’ hurt the environment?


The European Commission’s better regulation strategy has been described as nothing more than a ploy to cut environmental protection under the guise of slashing red tape.

Those fears were raised right at the beginning, two years ago. A BusinessEurope “kill list” of environmental laws sent to the Commission caused outrage.

The worst appeared to be confirmed when the executive ditched the Circular Economy Package of waste and recycling laws that was prepared under the Barroso Commission.

It was only after much lobbying from the European Parliament that the revised National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive, which caps unhealthy and polluting gases, was saved from the axe.

Then there was the Birds and Habitats directives. The rules were called in for an ominous sounding “fitness check” by the Commission.

First Vice-President Frans Timmersmans, the Commission’s better regulation tsar, faced furious MEPs, NGOs and environment ministers.

Again and again, he promised that better regulation would not harm the environment. Judge me on results, he said.

The Circular Economy Package was withdrawn, rewritten and re-tabled. While it is true that the new package has a broader scope, taking product design into account, it also has lower 2030 targets for recycling municipal and packaging waste than its predecessor.

There is also evidence that the year it took to make the package “more ambitious” had a chilling effect on green policies at national level, in addition to delaying its progress onto the lawbooks.

The NEC Directive had long been deadlocked with neither  MEPs nor ministers able to reach a deal. The threat of the axe concentrated minds.Today, the Council of Ministers backed the text earlier supported by the European Parliament.

There were concessions made, notably the removal of a cap on global-warming methane, but the deadlock was broken – thanks to better regulation.

Finally, the Birds and Habitats directives. Campaigners feared the Commission would reopen the environmental protection laws and take a knife to them in the name of economic competitiveness.

There was an unprecedented public outcry. More than half a million Europeans responded to a Commission consultation on the review.

EURACTIV revealed that the executive’s own analysis had found the laws were fit for purpose. It still took six months from our June 2016 exclusive before the executive made a decision.

That came on Wednesday. Up until the announcement, we were hearing the verdict could go either way.

The Commission stayed its hand, a very smart decision. It avoided a public relations disaster. Timmermans said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

He can also say, some concerns over the Circular Economy aside, that he has kept his promise.


In September 2015, the European Council promised to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece across the EU in two years. With less than a year to go, 8,162 people have been relocated. “I will be frank with you,” said Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos, “I am not the happiest man in the world.”

Member states will gradually resume returning asylum seekers to Greece from March next year, after transfers were suspended for five years because of poor conditions there, he said.

Marine Le Pen has called for an end to free education for the children of illegal immigrants. Is this Le Pen’s first shot across her rival presidential candidate François Fillon’s bows? Is it a coincidence she’s come up with this after Merkel toughened her stance on refugees? Meanwhile, visa-free travel for Ukraine and Georgian has edged closer.

The Commission launched infringement proceedings against seven member states for breaches of EU law over vehicle emissions. Germany and the UK broke the law by refusing to share information from their national investigation into the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, the Commission said. Here’s Catherine Stupp’s story.

The executive will be able to vet member states’ oil and gas deals with countries such as Russia, after it managed to overcome their fears over sovereignty in a boost to the Energy Union strategy. Things are not so harmonious over at Euronews

The Mercosur trade deal remains elusive and TTIP could yet rise from the dead.

Here’s EURACTIV France on François Hollande’s mixed record as president. The minister who led Hollande’s crusade for tax transparency, was today sentenced to three years for tax fraud.

The European Ombudsman has found the Commission guilty of maladministration. Emily O’Reilly criticised the Commission, with the honourable exception of DG Health, for not adhering to a WHO convention, demanding transparency around its dealings with Big Tobacco. NGO Corporate Europe Observatory brought the complaint.

Theresa May won a symbolic victory on Brexit last night after MPs voted not to delay her March 2017 timetable for triggering Article 50, the legal process to take the UK out of the EU.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court appeal hearing into whether her government needs the authority of Parliament to trigger Article 50 has entered its final day. A majority of Brits are probably in favour of “soft Brexit”, the LSE’s Tony Travers told Matthew Tempest.

Belgium’s L’Echo reports that Brussels is not “an attractive option” for Brexiles from the City of London. Good.

We don’t want lovely Brussels spoilt by a bunch of Hooray Henry bankers, off their heads on cocaine, cash and Chimay. Stay where you belong, in your rubbish wine bars, rigging banking rates on WhatsApp.


Justice and home affairs ministers meet tomorrow in Brussels to discuss changes to the EU asylum system, terrorism and how law enforcement authorities can crack encrypted data and tech.

Views are the author’s and not our sponsor’s.

This Brief was powered by Danfoss. The water industry consumes 4% of total global electricity – figure expected to double by 2040. Proven technologies to make the water cycle energy neutral already exist. EURACTIV and Danfoss invite you to “Engineering the Energy Union” – a high-level forum on how to realise the efficiency potential of electric motor and energy neutral water systems. Click here to register.


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