Cutting excess EU legislation is Verheugen’s “N°1 priority”

Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen has announced that every single one of the 900 pieces of EU legislation currently in the pipeline will be reviewed against their costs and benefits for the EU economy, and removed if necessary. 

Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen has announced what is being presented as sweeping new plans to cut administrative burdens on businesses as a way to kick-start the EU economy. 

Presenting the initiative to the press on 16 March, Verheugen made the equation look simple: “less red tape = more growth“. 

As a consequence, Verheugen said that legislation which puts excessive administrative burden on businesses, and SMEs in particular, will be systematically screened, potentially to be modified later or withdrawn altogether.

This will be “my number one political priority” and “hobby horse for the next five years,” he told journalists. 

There are currently 900 pieces of legislation pending before the Council and Parliament which need to be screened. But existing rules will also receive attention, Verheugen said, citing medical appliances, pesticides and waste disposal as examples of legislation which will be looked at. 

For these, “modification or repeal of the legislation will be considered“. A list of 17 pending and existing specific pieces of legislation, which will be targeted as initial priorities, has been made public.

The aim is to “strike the right balance between the costs and benefits of legislation” by making systematic use of impact assessments. Assessments will be evaluated against what Verheugen described as an “economically focused” Lisbon process and a “broad strategy for sustainable development”.

However, a crucial aspect Verheugen highlighted will be to involve member states in the process as was already suggested by the Commission in the new Lisbon strategy.

“According to a British study, 80% of the red tape encumbering the European economy does not come from Brussels but from the capitals – quite simply because EU directives are implemented in an unnecessarily bureaucratic fashion,” Verheugen said.

“We propose that ‘better regulation’ should be an integral component of the new national Lisbon action plans and that a high-level working party comprising experts from the EU and the member states should be set up to promote a common agenda”.

Asked how this new initiative will differ from previous ones, Commissioner Verheugen said it is a "political initiative" whereas "previous attempts were administrative" by nature. "I can see the difference with the previous Commission," which did not give "enough high political profile" to the issue, he added.

Eurochambers, the association European chambers of commerce and industry, said it "strongly endorses" the Commission's better regulation initiative. However, President Christoph Leitl added he would wait for concrete results before rejoicing. "Recent similar initiatives under the Dutch Presidency where such input was gathered never saw any results and we insist that the process be followed through in future."

On 15 March, the UK's Better Regulation Task Force issued a similar report calling on Tony Blair's government to "slash the administrative costs it imposes on business". The report adopts a strikingly identical slogan to Verheugen's: "Regulation - Less is More'. In December 2004, the task force had issued a first report, which called for a reduction of "over-complex, unnecessary EU red tape".

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) strongly approved the UK task force report, saying it would help "ensure that government is held to account on the delivery of its deregulatory promises".

Initiatives to simplify or codify EU legislation can be traced back to the 1992 Edinburgh European Council. The Lisbon Summit of March 2000 again made this task a priority and nearly every subsequent EU summit gave the Commission a renewed mandate to simplify the EU regulatory environment (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on Better Regulation).

In 2002, the Commission proposed an "Action Plan on simplifying and improving the regulatory environment" as a first follow-up to its EU White Paper on Governance published a year earlier. 

Since then, the new Barroso Commission and the member states have recognised that the ambitious economic and sustainable development objectives set out at the Lisbon Council had not been met (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the Mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy).

  • EU heads of states and government will discuss the initiative at the Spring Summit on 22-23 March
  • Pilot projects with member states in the construction sector are to be completed "as soon as possible" 
  • A Commission communication with detailed measures will follow in October 2005

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