18th Mar 2018

Verheugen bares teeth in anti-red tape drive

EU industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen has raised the alarm on poor efforts to slash EU over-regulation, slamming the European Commission's own high officials while calling for a red tape reduction quota to be fixed to member states.

Mr Verheugen, together with commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, is spearheading Brussels' campaign to scrap redundant legislative proposals in the pipeline, while also simplifying existing EU lawbooks.

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But the campaign, launched last autumn, has proven "not as successful as expected," the commissioner stated in a highly critical interview in Germany daily Die Welt on Monday (24 July).

"This is why I've just shown the yellow card, and commission president Barroso has subsequently drawn yellow-red," said the commissioner in a football metaphor casting the two commission chiefs as referees of uncooperative commission staff.

Mr Verheugen said that although the commission has withdrawn 67 unnecessary proposed laws from the EU's legislative machine, the reduction of existing regulation has met heavy resistance from the commission's own staff as well as the European Parliament and member states.

Brussels had for this year planned to simplify 54 laws – but only five have so far been tackled.

"We've made it very clear that the simplification project is not a toy of officials, but the flagship of the commission," said the German commissioner.

He explained that all commissioners backed the project but the layer of highest officials – so-called directors-general – are hindering the deregulation drive.

"My colleagues all know how important this project is. Things are blocked in the [staff] apparatus. When I raised the alarm bell, some were really astonished."

"Some [directors-general] have not really realized how important this plan is to us. There are also cases in which DGs [directorates general] have underestimated practical difficulties."

In an attempt to give more weight to his fight against bureaucracy, the commissioner suggested that member states during the German EU presidency starting in January commit themselves to a "quantifiable" reduction target of EU red tape.

"An administrative reduction of around 25 percent would release €75 billion into the European economy," he said.

But he added that member states are not always happy to support the commission when it proposes to chop regulation.

His own plan to scrap 80 EU laws regulating the size of the packaging of food products was resisted by the UK and Germany – normally de-regulation champions - as well as by MEPs who reacted to the plan by issuing a list of products where packaging sizes still need regulation.

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Europe is "an ally, not a threat", the EU Commission says - as the US is poised to impose duties in steel and aluminium. Common action on Chinese steel overcapacity could help diffuse the crisis.

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