Edmund Stoiber: ‘I have changed the EU’

Former chairman of the EU's High Level Working Group on Administrative Burdens, Edmund Stoiber. [EC]

Former chairman of the EU's High Level Working Group on Administrative Burdens, Edmund Stoiber. [EC]

Former Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber was the EU’s “Mr Red Tape”, retiring after seven years of trying to reduce bureaucracy in the bloc. Before presenting his final report, he spoke of a “change of consciousness” in Brussels and called on member states to do their share to cut excessive regulation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Stoiber often spoke of the Brussels “Moloch” when describing his work in the High Level Group on Administrative Burdens. Speaking in Berlin on Thursday (25 September) after announcing his retirement, Stoiber said, “The EU is still a legislation machine. It is too bureaucratic.”

The EU’s regulation addiction is to blame for the success of right-wing populist parties in the last European elections, the former Bavarian prime minister said. The population is right to be fed up with it, he added.

But Stoiber also spoke of a better, less bureaucratic future for the EU. His working group was able to “shrink” the European Commission, and create awareness in Brussels about the actual effects of EU legislation.

“Finally the EU is beginning to understand that not everything can be regulated nor must everything be regulated,” said the conservative politician.

Stoiber has always been an advocate for changing the way lawmakers think in Brussels. Now his efforts may have finally paid off: Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission will introduce a new central position primarily devoted to the issue of cutting red tape. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans can issue a veto if he considers a proposed measure excessive.

>> Read: Timmermans to wield veto right over ‘excessive bureaucracy’

“This appointment is a huge success for my work,” Stoiber explained.

Stoiber has been honorary chairman of the EU’s High Level Group on Administrative Burdens since November 2007.

When former Commission President José Manuel Barroso appointed him to the post, the move was ridiculed from all sides.

Martin Schulz called the appointment a “crazy idea”.

Schulz said he doubted Stoiber’s qualifications because the Bavarian state government had “not exactly excelled in cutting red tape itself”. The Social Democrat also said he believed the post was bound to be only a temporary one.

But Stoiber stayed longer, in fact, than the two years originally planned. On 14 October, he will submit his final report to Barroso.

In the report, Stoiber’s group is calling for a net target. The EU should require itself and its member states to reduce bureaucratic red tape by 10% over the next two years.

“This should not only apply to the EU, but equally to national governments,” Stoiber emphasised.

For the conservative politician from Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), it is already quite clear that a large part of bureaucratic costs occur because the member states are implementing EU law inefficiently.

“To some extent, the Commission is unfairly criticised for this,” Stoiber said. The member states must put all of their legislation to the same test,  he recommended.

The group is calling for an independent body to be created in every member state, inspired by the National Regulatory Control Council in Germany. Such a body would measure costs that are created by legislation.

In addition, national governments would be able to exchange best practices for the implementation of EU law, he said.

“Portugal announces all of its public procurement on the internet. Germany has a lot to learn in that regard,” Stoiber said.

In the meantime, the Commission should provide clear information on how to implement its laws most efficiently, he said.

The current level of regulation in Europe is too high, said Johannes Ludewig, a member of the group and chairman of Germany’s National Regulatory Control Council.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) suffer the most from this. Innovative start-ups are also further and further inhibited.

Europe needs the “courage to leave gaps”

According to Stoiber, citizen’s and business behaviour is also contradictory’. On the one hand, they complain about bureaucracy but on the other hand, new regulations are always being demanded to improve people’s lives.

“Brussels is constantly busy improving people’s lives with new rules,” said Stoiber. The EU should not concern itself with bans on high-heels for hairstylists or the composition of Neapolitan pizzas, he pointed out.

Instead, Stoiber is calling for “a bit of courage to leave gaps”. In the area of tension between freedom and security, the former Bavarian leader said freedom should be given the greater priority.

The Stoiber team worked in three stages. In the first two years up until 2009, it worked through the 13 most important legal areas with regard to bureaucratic costs. The study’s conclusion was that information requirements connected to legal provisions cost companies a total of €124 billion during that period.

Afterwards, the group made concrete recommendations to reduce bureaucratic costs by 25% until 2012. To this day, Brussels has already implemented several measures that save European firms “a total of around €33 billion”, Stoiber explained.

During the group’s second mandate from 2010 to 2012, Stoiber’s team studied the implementation of existing EU law in the member states and submitted recommendations for improvement.

The researchers found that if every EU member state were to orient itself along these Europe-wide best practices, up to €40 billion could be saved.  

The group’s last stage, which lasted until October 2014, assessed the extent to which red-tape reduction measures were actually implemented in the member states focusing on the effect on small businesses and micro enterprises.

And now, Stoiber is convinced he has arrived at the end of his work.

“The necessity of cutting bureaucratic red-tape is on the minds of EU politicians. That was my goal,” Stoiber said.

The EU has changed due to his work, the Bavarian said, “and that will increase [public] acceptance of the EU in the long-term.”

The European Commission is the EU body responsible for proposing and enforcing legislation, implementing EU policies, and representing the EU in the world.

The Commission is elected every five years, and it is composed of 28 members called “commissioners”. Every member country appoints one commissioner. The Council nominates one of the 28 members to become the president of the team.

The European Parliament then has to approve the president-elect, and later on his new team.

Every commissioner is responsible for an EU policy. The parliament organises hearings before voting on whether to approve the whole Commission, to check if each one of them is fit for the job.

Once the parliament approves the new team, the Council of the EU appoints the new Commission.

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