Commission’s better regulation panel mooted for watchdog role

Frans Timmermans, Jean-Claude Juncker and Edmund Stoiber (from left to right) [European Commission]

EXCLUSIVE: The European Commission’s reformed Impact Assessment Board could one day evolve into an independent watchdog, scrutinising legislation on behalf of the executive, the EU Parliament and Council, EURACTIV has learnt.

Currently the Parliament and the Council are separately responsible for scrutinising legislation, including commissioning their research and studies, if they see fit. The current board works under the authority of the Commission president, issuing opinions on draft research.

In a drive to cut red tape, the reformed board, which will have powers to review both pending and existing EU laws, would eventually work with all three major EU institutions. But that is not expected to happen in the near future.

First, the new board must become more independent from the Commission than its predecessor. Plans for developing it further are at a very early stage, EURACTIV understands.

In November, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to the European Parliament and Italian Presidency of the EU, suggesting a better coordinated working programme between the institutions. The second part of the letter is dedicated to his proposal for a new inter-institutional agreement “on better law-making”.  

Read>>Juncker defines 10 priorities for EU, seeks inter-institutional support

The Commission said on Thursday (18 December) that the Impact Assessment Board will be renamed the Regulatory Scrutiny Board. Two members from outside the Commission will join it full-time.

The current board is chaired by the deputy secretary general in charge of better regulation and made up of Commission “high-level officials”.

Better regulation

The new board will advise the Commission, as part of the executive’s drive for “better regulation” and to cut red tape.

First Vice-President Timmermans, who Tuesday announced a controversial cull of pending regulation, said: “All members will be independent, working full time exclusively for the Board and be transparently selected on the basis of their expertise.”

Read>> Circular Economy package to be ditched and re-tabled

The board will be able to review existing regulation in a “fitness check”, and call upon the Commission to revise or withdraw the rules via a new legislative proposal.

While the College of Commissioners will still have final say on whether bills are proposed to the Council and Parliament, the Regulatory Scrutiny Board will be influential.

The reform is backed by Germany, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and France.  Some of those countries are introducing their own equivalents at national level. The UK has campaigned for a fully independent scrutiny board, a call initially knocked back by the Commission. 

>>Read: Juncker rejects UK push for independent scrutiny of EU laws


Edmund Stoiber was also announced as a special advisor on better regulation to the Commission.  However, he will not be part of the new board, but advise the Commission directly.

Both Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Timmermans welcomed Stoiber’s appointment.  The former Prime Minister of Bavaria chaired the EU’s High Level Group on Administrative Burdens for seven years.  He will not be paid a salary, but his expenses will be covered.

Juncker said: “Edmund Stoiber has helped the Commission on this quest for seven years now, identifying unnecessary burdens on business, and helping the Commission improve the business environment.”

“Considering his commitment, experience and expertise, he is the right man to advise us on fighting overregulation and red tape and give growth and jobs a real chance in Europe.”

Stoiber’s group wrote a report outlining how best to reform EU regulation.  With the support of the group, the Commission exceeded its target to cut red tape for business—achieving a 27% cut, rather than 25%, and bringing about savings for companies worth over €33 billion, the executive said.

>>Read: Edmund Stoiber: ‘I have changed the EU’

But the time he spent leading he group had its controversies. A 2012 EURACTIV investigation revealed he lobbied former Health Commissioner John Dalli on the controversial tobacco directive during one of his group’s meetings.

Stoiber’s intervention on behalf of a Bavarian snuff manufacturer took place in a meeting on 3 May 2012, when the group met Dalli in Brussels to discuss health policies. A Commission spokesman confirmed to EURACTIV that, during the meeting, “Mr Stoiber mentioned a complaint received a few days before from a medium-sized tobacco company.”

Read>> Tobacco lobby focus switches from Dalli to Stoiber

Today, trade unions condemned the appointment. Veronica Nilsson, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said, “I fear Mr Stoiber will not help with better regulation, but lobby on behalf of business for less regulation. That risks being at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment.

“Today’s announcement does nothing to inspire confidence in what is supposed to be a last chance Commission.” 

Science and policymaking

The  double announcement comes amid anxiety over the new Commission’s decision-making process, after Juncker axed the role of chief scientific advisor, held by Professor Anne Glover under the Barroso Commission.

Under Glover’s watch, the Commission set up a special advisory group to provide the EU executive with independent information and advice on an array of scientific and technology issues.

On Tuesday (16 December), at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Conservative British MEP Vicky Ford called on Juncker to “keep his promise” and have a chief scientific advisor.

“President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice,” said Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva, after Glover was sacked in November.

“He has not yet decided how to institutionalise this independent scientific advice,” she told EURACTIV.

The chief scientific advisor question was not linked to the new board, Commission sources said.

Read>> Juncker still mulling scientific advice role after Glover’s position axed

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "There is a chilling de-regulation wind blowing through the European Commission that will have major implications for basic laws that protect people and the planet. The appointment of Edmund Stoiber as special adviser, with his pro-industry and anti-environment background, raises major concerns about the direction president Juncker is taking the European Union.

"With the withdrawal this week of legislation that would have protected human health, increased new green jobs and reduced our overconsumption of resources, it is clear that corporations are being put before the well-being of citizens and the environment. Appointing Stoiber to oversee cutting further legislation will be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business activity.

Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.

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