All EU institutions must embrace ‘better’ regulation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans [Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr]

‘Better regulation’ is not political jargon but an engine for the economic growth so badly needed across the continent argue Sajjad Karim and Anthea McIntyre.

Sajjad Karim is the ECR’s Legal Affairs committee coordinator and has authored a number of parliamentary reports on better regulation. Anthea McIntyre is the ECR’s employment committee coordinator and chair of the ECR’s re-shoring and better regulation policy group.

Talk to any small business owner about their biggest frustration and most will tell you it is the time they have to spend on complying with bureaucracy: time that they would much rather spend doing the real work of their business, and on expanding, employing and creating wealth that Europe badly needs.

The better regulation agenda is not an abstract or ideological debate, but a solid way of delivering growth that fits in to David Cameron’s reform agenda in Europe. You would struggle to find a politician that does not talk about the need for ‘jobs and growth’, yet too often politicians’ response to many challenges – especially in Europe – is to push for a new piece of legislation, or a new governmental programme, that all cumulatively add up to a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses, and SMEs in particular.

The European Commission is becoming aware of this red tape challenge and we were pleased when Frans Timmermans was appointed with a specific mandate to deliver ‘Better Regulation’ in the EU. Already, we are seeing the EU legislating less with its first Commission Work Programme being significantly slimmer than in recent years. Now the challenge is to make the EU not just pass fewer laws, but to ensure the laws we pass are proportionate and streamlined to minimise bureaucracy and consider the often unintended and adverse consequences they can have.

Last week’s Better Regulation Package published by Commissioner Timmermans is a welcome step in the right direction. Many of the initiatives contained within it have been ECR Group priorities for years and we intend to play a constructive role now in reaching a new agreement between the EU’s institutions aimed at embedding better regulation principles across the piste.

This is of course not the first time we have heard of a commission commitment to better regulation and so actions will now speak louder than words; and the full weight of delivering this plan does not fall on Commissioner Timmermans. As he said, it takes three to tango, and all of the EU’s main legislating institutions need to embrace these principles (and so do all of the Directorates in your commission as well, Mr Commissioner).

Whilst Commissioner Timmermans’ proposals were a strong place to start, we can strengthen them further. We would like to see a truly independent Regulatory Scrutiny Board, rather than a body owned by the Commission. Independent impact assessments are vital to improving legislation and the Commission has missed the opportunity to include social partner agreements within their scope.

The proposals did not include a target for burden reduction, which risks a sense of inertia rather than urgency in our drive to cut red tape.

In the future, there are a number of other measures that the ECR will pursue in all of our legislative actions, in a search to drive an agenda of reducing burdens. For example, laws should pass a competitiveness test to show that they will boost EU competitiveness, not harm it. New regulations should be offset so that we have at least one-in, one-out to ensure the overall burden does not creep out of control. Sunset clauses built into legislation will require us to review the effectiveness of laws regularly.

Our ECR colleague Anneleen Van Bossuyt is preparing a report on improving single market regulation in the parliament’s internal market committee where special emphasis is placed on the need to improve consultation in particular on implementation of EU law. Many of the ideas presented by Mrs Van Bossuyt in her working document are reflected in the commission’s package such as the need to extend impact assessment and stakeholder involvement on secondary legislation which is often of key importance to businesses and consumers but where transparency has been lacking in the past.

The role of the European Parliament needs to change also. The 2009-14 parliament saw, in many areas, an avalanche of new legislation from the commission. This has slowed, and the parliament is looking for a role to play with its legislative function less occupied. The answer is for the parliament to be acting more like a scrutiny body, not just churning out laws, but investigating whether laws are being effectively implemented, and whether they have had burdensome impacts. The European Parliament should start to ask itself whether we can achieve our aims without more legislation and ‘more Europe’.

From a start full of promise, we are now entering a phase when we should see action from all institutions, and the passage of the commission’s better regulation package will be an important litmus test. I hope to see more ambitious targets for a simplified and rationalised regulatory environment. We will then look to SMEs – who are the backbone of our economy – for their judgment.

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