20th Feb 2019

EU commission booed over choice of axed laws

It was supposed to be a "cleaning-the-desk" exercise.

Draft laws that are obsolete or watered down beyond recognition will be binned, while only laws that are “really necessary” will be put forward – resulting in 23 proposals for the coming year with the priority being the creation of an investment fund meant to attract €315bn worth of private and public money across Europe.

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But when EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans - the vice-president in charge of "better regulation" - took the floor on Tuesday (16 December) in Strasbourg, several MEPs booed them and shouted "shame."

At the core of Liberal, Green and leftist anger is that among the 80 draft laws to be binned, there are some key proposals - notably on air pollution, recycling and nuclear materials.

Timmermans said the EU commission "is not compromising on environmental goals," but will come up with bolder proposals that at likely to get the approval of member states and the European Parliament.

He also noted that the 2015 working programme is a proposal and that laws will be scrapped only if MEPs agree.

The 'grand coalition' of Socialist and centre-right MEPs who dominate the European Parliament endorsed the plan.

But the minority critics were more vocal.

Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld asked how the EU commission can still claim it is committed to transparency when it gives up on pushing for an agreement on making access to documents easier.

"Liberals strongly oppose the withdrawal of legislative proposals just because member states don't take responsibility and block them," she said.

"If that were the rule, many good laws, making the lives of EU citizens better, would not have existed today. There would not be binding rules for discipline in the eurozone, no European patents, no means to tackle plastics pollution and no common asylum rules," in't Veld added.

Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts also criticised the trimmed-down working programme as "axing crucial social, environmental and health legislation".

Bernadette Segol, who heads the EU umbrella organisation for trade unions (Etuc), noted that among the 23 planned bills for 2015 "there is not a single proposal to improve worker, consumer or environmental protection".

"This does not seem the best way to restore public confidence in Europe. It is a business agenda, with no sign of Juncker’s commitment to the social market economy: it is all market and no social,” Segol said.

Alter-EU, a pro-transparency coalition of NGOs, said the Juncker commission "broke its promise" to create a mandatory lobby register.

Instead, the proposal to introduce a register based on an agreement among EU institutions "is misleading because such an agreement will not be binding on lobbyists".

While still defending the selection of bills, Timmermans conceded that "better regulation, is often set out as a principle but in practical terms it is difficult to put in practice, as I discovered in the last few weeks".

For his part, Juncker highlighted the focus on fair taxation - with new draft bills in the offing, including on making national tax deals with big corporations more transparent.

Juncker is trying to shake off his image as a deal-fixer for hundreds of multinational companies when he was prime minister of Luxembourg. The resulting set-ups meant some companies paid less than one percent profits on their taxes.

He said he was fully committed to fighting tax evasion and fraud and to bringing about EU-wide rules that will close the loopholes allowing companies to dodge taxes - Luxembourg being only one of the around two dozen EU states who offer such deals.

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