UK task force presents guide to alternative policymaking tools

The third report of the UK’s Better Regulation Task Force provides a toolkit to assess alternatives to traditional EU regulation such as market-based instruments, self-regulation, co-regulation or voluntary agreements.

The new report by the UK Better Regulation Task Force is the third in a series of very thorough reports looking at the issue of more flexible and effective policymaking. The first one “Make it simple – make it better” was published in December 2004 and looked at ways to simplify EU legislation. The second report “Get connected – effective engagement in the EU” (Sept. 2005) dealt with the issue of good consultation.

The third report is called “Routes to better regulation”. It contains recommendations to the European Commission to promote the use of effective alternatives to the standard EU lawmaking via regulations and directives.

The report looks at the following alternatives:

  • taking no action at all;
  • providing information or guidance (eg awareness campaigns on road safety);
  • use market-based instruments (eg the European emission trading scheme);
  • co-regulation (“self-regulation with a legislative back-stop”; eg. for the energy efficiency of the white goods market);
  • self-regulation or voluntary agreements (eg car industry commitments to reduce CO emissions from cars);
  • social partner agreements (eg on telenetworking);
  • recommendations: have no legal force but suggest course of action (eg on alcohol use of young people);
  • ‘New Approach Directives’, which set out essential requirements for manufactured products (eg toys safety directive, which the report criticises);
  • flexible directives such as the packaging waste directive.

The report also lists the factors influencing the use of these alternative instruments and concludes with twelve recommendations for the Commission. 

Main recommendations are the following:

  • DGs should set up a dedicated better regulation unit and appoint better regulation “champions” within their units;
  • Secretariat General should be given responsibility and resources to deliver better regulation agenda;
  • Secretariat General should publicise techniques used by DG Environment to promote use of voluntary agreements;
  • greater use of ‘New Approach Directives’;
  • more public visibility of alternatives (annual list of proposals dealt with by alternative approaches);
  • look at US approach to give consumers redress where self-regulatory commitments are not respected;
  • stakeholders should be invited to come up with alternatives;
  • more involvement of all EU institutions when considering the choice between traditional regulation and alternatives.

Traditional EU lawmaking (regulations or directives) is often criticised for several weaknesses: 

  • it contributes to the image of Brussels being a bureaucracy only interested in red tape;
  • it can be costly for businesses and thus leads to serious opposition (see REACH);
  • it creates serious implementation problems when member states do not effectively transpose the EU rules into their own lawbooks;
  • it is not very flexible and sometimes takes a long time to amend later;
  • it can thus be a barrier to innovation and the competitiveness of the European economy in an age where globalisation requires quick action.

In recent years, the EU has therefore started a campaign for better EU regulation which includes different elements:

  • systematic impact assessments (IAs) of new legislative proposals based on revised guidelines, adopted in June 2005;
  • a Commission proposal to withdraw 68 pending legislative proposals (see EURACTIV 28 September 2005);
  • a Commission work programme to simplify over 1,400 rules and regulations over the next three years (see EURACTIV 26 October 2005).
  • The EcoFin meeting on 6 December will discuss a joint paper of the UK, Austrian and Finnish Presidencies on "Advancing Better Regulation in Europe".

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