A Good First Step

The Financial Times reports this morning that EU Commission President José Barroso is about to launch a major ‘deregulation campaign’. He is reported as saying that he was determined to get the Commission to embrace better regulation, to carry out more systematic impact assessments and to make more frequent use of the option of not legislating at all. “The important thing is to change the culture of the organisation”. Maybe all this won’t turn out to be the last word in sliced bread, but it is moving in the right direction. According to the FT:

Mr Barroso wants to axe a wide variety of laws designed to impose EU-wide standards, claiming that some legislation was “absurd” and brought Europe into disrepute….

Mr Barroso and Günter Verheugen, the EU enterprise commissioner, examined 200 draft laws in various stages of the Brussels decision-making process, and have so far identified 69 to be withdrawn and scrapped.

They include proposals to protect workers from solar radiation – a draft law rejected by the European parliament last week after the media claimed it would force builders and Bavarian barmaids to cover up. Mr Barroso said it had become “a joke”.

Mr Barroso is also expected to urge Commission colleagues on September 27 to withdraw proposals for EU-wide rules in areas such as food labelling, presentation and advertising, the regulation of sales promotions and weekend lorry-bans.

Laws will be axed if legislation can be better left to member states, where there is an inadequate assessment of the impact on business, or where the measure is seen as too “heavy handed”.

Obviously the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but following on the heels of his earlier straightforward recognition that the constitution was effectively dead the signs are at least positive.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

9 thoughts on “A Good First Step

  1. i do not think that the trak record of this guy (baroso) give him any legitimacy to chose which law would be voted or not.

  2. Timely and really fascinating stuff about scrapping absurd EU laws coming from Barrosso. Curiously, The Times has just posted a news report saying:

    “BRUSSELS has been given the power to compel British courts to fine or imprison people for breaking EU laws, even if the Government and Parliament are opposed. . . ”

  3. “Timely and really fascinating stuff about scrapping absurd EU laws coming from Barrosso.”

    Do I note a certain sense of irony here :).

    I think Bob I am as sceptical as you are about whether or not any of this will come to anything, but if they say they are trying, then I say “wait and see what they do”.

    Really the ad-hominem bit isn’t the important one here, but rather the issue of whether, following the ‘no’ votes, there is a slow dawning recognition in Brussels that some things have to change. In this sense I am a reformist and not a ‘sceptic’.

    The other issue you raise is indeed interesting, but not directly related. Barroso says he wants to review absurd laws, this ruling is about the application of environmental laws which no one seems to be suggesting are absurd.

    The issue seems to be about the harmonisation of criminal law. I don’t have strong opinions about things I don’t understand, so I can’t really comment too far, but….. if the court has ruled in this way it must be because law has been agreed to which makes such a decision possible. So someone somewhere along the line must have agreed to something, and the court is then ruling on this.

    Whether, as a matter of ‘politik’, the Commission should hold fire is another issue. At first sight this appears to strengthen the European Parliament against the nation states, and I’m not sure that I’m against that in principle. I’m not a great admirer of sovereignty per-se. I am in favour of subsidiarity when not following it produces absurd and even damaging outcomes.

    “The ruling was welcomed by most MEPs, who will now have the powers to pass criminal law and not just civil law. Chris Davies, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Europe, said: “Europe needs an umpire to ensure fair play between member states and to dismiss the cheats. The European Commission is the only body that comes close to fitting that role.”

  4. It’s the new style of governance.

    While Tony Blair’s government churns out more and more new business regulations, extends employment rights and makes the tax code ever more complex, Blair turns up at his press conferences to denounce red tape and say that he is setting up cabinet committees to axe unnecessary regulation. Brown in budget speeches announces massive forthcoming cuts in the civil service and moving swathes of the civil service out of London – in fact, only 18% of the civil service worked in London anyway and only some 12% in central London.

    With all that, there is much sound of (canned?) applause off-stage for all this cutting of red tape and demanning the civil service but what actually happens?

  5. “Brown in budget speeches announces massive forthcoming cuts in the civil service”

    Yes, and you can ‘double-spin’ (although not I imagine ‘tailspin’) by saying that your unemployment figures are a bit worse due to government efficiency rules. According to Bloomberg this morning:

    Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown may be damping the labor market through their own attempts to control government hiring. In July, Brown pledged last year to reduce the size of the public sector workforce, in part by shedding 84,150 civil service jobs.

    Also, I think you need to watch for the ‘anti-spin’. The Times yesterday was lambasting Brown for Britain slipping in the World Bank’s doing business report:

    “Britain has slipped back in the race to be the best country in the world for doing business”, which was “a blow to Gordon Brown’s claims to be boosting Britain’s competitiveness”.

    In fact, as New Economist points out, the slippage was due to te inclusion of three new indicator categories.

    the UK had the fourth best average ranking – suggesting, if anything, an improvement on last year’s rankings (though some methodologies have changed).

    So at the end of the day they aren’t doing anything like as badly as most of the rest (if you want to put it that way).

  6. Laws will be axed if legislation can be better left to member states
    Does this mean, that Brussels has finally discovered what this often mentioned subsidary principle is all about ?

  7. “Does this mean, that Brussels has finally discovered what this often mentioned subsidary principle is all about ?”

    Well I don’t think we’re there yet, not by a long way, but I do think this is a step in the right direction, and as such should be welcomed.

    It’s all a question really of whether you want to see the EU seriously reformed, or whether you’re pretty much happy with the way it is since it forms a handy target to sling mud at.

    I want a better EU, so I’ll go with Barroso.

    There is an interesting development reported today in the EU Observer (@ bob among others):


    Trade union leader John Monks has lashed out at Barroso for putting the ‘social europe’ in danger, and the main case he cites is the so-called ‘sunlight law’.

    Now back to curlywurly and subsidiarity, I actually don’t think it is so stupid to at least make people aware of the dangers of excessive exposure to sunlight (especially in the southern europe context). The health risks here seem to me to be not a minor issue, but I don’t think this is a matter for EU-wide legislation.

    I think the gay marriage (or the anti smoking) model is far the best one in these cases. Let those countries who take the issue seriously lead the way, and then, if the issue is ‘serious’ and not ‘frivolous’ the laggards will follow on eventually.

    Getting the EU out of the middle on many of these issues may well be the best way to get results. There’s a lot of talk of federalism in the EU context, but US federalism doesn’t work in this way at all. So it’s a rethink at this level that I personally would favour: I would like to see a genuinely federalist and decentralised Europe, and one which rested more on the regions than on the nation states (but I think this is a much longer term possibility).

  8. In fact, the word federal means exactly the opposite in British discourse on the EU to what it does anywhere else – we use it to mean a strong centralised government, whereas federalism everywhere else and throughout history has meant the devolution and restriction of central government powers relative to smaller entities who constitute the central government.

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