Hedegaard: ‘We have to be careful about what we label as red tape’

Connie Hedegaard, pictured in October 2013

Connie Hedegaard, pictured in October 2013. [News Øresund/Flickr]

The European Commission’s drive to cut down EU legislation may sound like a good idea. But it can also do more harm than good, by reinstating borders in the single market, warns Connie Hedegaard.

Connie Hedegaard was European Commissioner for Climate Action in the Barroso II executive (2010-2014). As climate and energy minister for Denmark (2007-2009), she steered the UN negotiation process that led to the Copenhagen accord on climate change.

Hedegaard spoke to EURACTIV editor Frédéric Simon on the margins of the #Media4EU event in the European Parliament.

The new Commission has pledged to cut down on EU regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering economic activity. Environmental laws on air pollution and the circular economy have focused much attention of this ‘better regulation’ agenda, driven by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. As a former climate change commissioner, how does that make you feel?

Who wants bad regulation? Of course everybody can agree to better regulation. But it is simply false to think that regulating air quality will make use poorer or that it will hamper our competitiveness.

Chinese citizens who live in the smog probably really envy Europe these days – we have managed to create an economic model where we make growth, environment and competitiveness go hand in hand.

So I’m all for better regulation – we all are – but it’s not so that environmental regulation per se is red tape.

One could argue there is some truth to that – just consider the Emissions Trading Scheme, which you are familiar with. It has become a very complex machine, which has added compliance cost on businesses. Don’t these regulations also come at a cost?

Of course it’s easy to make a mockery out of EU regulations. The Murdoch press and the Bild Zeitung have cited some of them during the European elections: standards for coffee machines, water consumed in toilet flushes, etc.

But think twice about it: would we be better off with 28 national standards instead of one EU standard? Is that not what comes with the single market? So there is sometimes a misperception in the way we discuss this, because the alternative to EU regulation is not necessarily no regulation, it’s 28 different regulations.

And if I had a small and medium-sized company, I would very much prefer having one standard to comply with rather than 28. So we have to be careful about what we label as ‘red tape’.

Still, with hindsight, would you do things differently today on the ETS?

It’s not that Europe started something and we went alone. Don’t forget that now the Chinese are starting their Emissions Trading Scheme for 250 million people, soon to be nationwide. This month, South Korea has started theirs, California has theirs, some Canadian provinces have theirs. So others follow what we’ve been doing in Europe.

Have there been challenges with the ETS – yes surely, because of the economic crisis. But it’s not because you have problems that you give up. You improve it, and this is what we have on the table at the moment.


About the UN climate summit in Paris later this year, the Greens say the French want to arrive at an agreement at all costs, at the risk of watering down the deal on substance. Is that also your impression?

I think the French team is doing tremendous work to ensure both ambition and realism at the Paris COP. Of course, it’s not so difficult to have a deal. The success criteria for Paris must be to have a deal that makes it credible that the world will stay below the 2°C warming limit that was adopted in Copenhagen.  

Is it within reach? Yes, it is. Is it difficult to get there? Yes, it is incredibly difficult.

A piece of advice for the French maybe? You have personally led the Copenhagen negotiations yourself back in 2009…

No, I think the French are doing a lot of positive things. The European Union has taken the first step by agreeing on 2030 targets, soon followed by the US and China, so that’s not a bad point of departure.

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