Business Green

Published 28th May 2015

http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/2410229/the-eu-promises-better-regulation-but-better-for-whom (requires subscription)

An article about the EU Commission’s new policy billed as “Better Regulation”. The motivation for this comprehensive package is claimed to be boosting openness and transparency in the EU decision-making process. Greens have described it as “an attack on the fundamentals of democracy, on political accountability and on the ability of the union to act.”

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Last week the EU Commission adopted a new policy billed as “Better Regulation”. The motivation for this comprehensive package is claimed to be boosting openness and transparency in the EU decision-making process so that EU policies achieve their objectives in the most effective and efficient way. All laudable stuff, one might think.

Certainly BusinessEurope, the leading advocate for corporate business, is a keen supporter. It sees the Better Regulation agenda as “taking a smart approach to regulation” so it “will enhance growth and investment”. Prime minister David Cameron has also welcomed the package, saying it will create “significant steps in cutting EU red tape for business” and has declared himself pleased that the commission has included key elements of the UK’s better regulation principles. Indeed, with a referendum in the offing, many in Brussels see the package as one of a number of sweeteners designed to enable Cameron to sell the union to his sceptical backbenchers.

BusinessEurope calls for legislation guided by considerations of “relevance, efficiency, proportionality and cost-effectiveness”. It calls for the EU to “avoid legislative proposals with a disproportionate impact on competitiveness that add no real value to the single market and growth.” In other words, where legislation and hard-fought-for regulations on issues such as workers’ rights, health and safety standards or environmental protection stand in the way of competitiveness and profit, they should be cut because they are simply a burden and a barrier to growth.

Buried in the package are a number of direct assaults on the European Parliament, the only one of the three central institutions of the EU that is directly democratic. For a policy agenda that claims to be aimed at reducing the burden of bureaucracy, there are a surprising number of elements that will greatly increase the administrative steps necessary to introduce new legislation. It appears that the business lobbyists consider legislation itself as a burden rather than as a collective achievement that protects and advances society as a whole.

A good example is the new Regulatory Scrutiny Board which, with a strengthened role and three unaccountable external members, will be given the power to oversee the work of legislators. Once proposals reach the democratically accountable representatives in the parliament, their room for manoeuvre will be severely curtailed by the requirement to undertake an impact assessment on any substantive amendment prior to adoption at any stage of the legislative process.

Publicly, Green co-chair Philippe Lamberts has said this proposal constitutes “a coup against the democratic process” and “an attack on the fundamentals of democracy, on political accountability and on the ability of the union to act”. Privately he and his co-chair Rebecca Harms are stiffening the resolve of the other groups and of Parliament president Martin Schulz to resist this attack on the rights of Europe’s citizens to have their laws made by representatives, not big business.

Many of the green businesses that are flourishing across Europe today owe their vitality to the regulations on recycling or energy efficiency that corporate business is so keen to unpick. This is why the misnamed Better Regulation package is a threat to the green economy and to our shared future and it is why Greens in the Parliament have pledged to fight it every step of the way.

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