Ministers reject EU targets for slashing national red tape
20.02.07 @ 09:28
BRUSSELS - EU industry ministers have dealt a blow to the European Commission's "better regulation" agenda by refusing binding targets to cut national bureaucracy which accounts for half of the bloc's administrative costs.
Industry ministers on Monday (19 February) gave the green light to the commission's aim to curb the EU regulative burden by 25 percent by 2012 but failed to take up their own share of the burden.
The commission believes red tape reduction would boost the EU economy with the equivalent of 3.5 percent of GDP and free up an estimated €150 billion for investment.
But although there has been a lot of rhetoric in favour of the initiative, it is proving difficult to implement both at EU and national level.
EU industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen said after the meeting that out of 46 pieces of legislation initially proposed by Brussels for scrapping or simplification, only five have received the necessary go-ahead by both the European Parliament and member states.
Industry ministers refused to agree to EU-wide targets for curbing their own bureaucracy by a quarter by 2008, saying that "taking into account the different starting positions, member states are invited to set their own ambitious national targets."
While the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark argued in favour of the national red tape cuts, most other delegations were against any fixed goals.
Mr Verheugen admitted the commission has no power to force the governments into anything more than they have agreed - given that national legislation and competences are at stake.
"There will be states where the 25 percent cut is feasible and in others it won't be. It's not a legal obligation. It's a commitment to a joint political target which every single member state is encouraged to go for," he stated.
Member states agreed a non-binding objective instead, pledging to carry out analyses of their national legislation by 2008, particularly in 13 areas highlighted by the commission as crucial for businesses.
But some diplomats indicated that the initiative could run the risk of making the administrative burden higher not lower for companies.
"We need to calculate the real benefits of this exercise so that we won't end up asking the companies - especially small businesses - to carry out analyses of national legislation costing them more than what we would save if that piece of legislation was changed," one diplomat said.
Another difficulty is the actual method by which the administrative cuts should be measured, with some countries suggesting their own calculation is different from the commission's method.
The better regulation agenda will come up again at the top EU leaders' summit on 8-9 March in Brussels, hosted by current EU president German chancellor Angela Merkel.