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22nd Feb 2020

Tough battle expected on EU law-making culture

  • Laws are negotiated without member states officials having a clear idea of their effect on consumers or businesses, say experts (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

The European Commission has woken up to the charge that it over-regulates but says the only way things will properly change is if MEPs and member states stop blindly making major amendments to laws.

It set out its stall on better law-making in December by saying it planned just 23 initiatives in 2015, a quarter of the output of recent years.

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  • Germany's anti-bureaucracy chief Johannes Ludewig: "More than 60 percent of costs stemming from legislation (in Germany) is coming from Brussels". (Photo: EUobserver)

The slim 2015 work programme represents something of a cultural revolution in the commission and now it wants to have the same sort of shake-up applied to the other major players in the legislative chain.

Marianne Klingbeil, deputy secretary general of the commission, points out that a draft law may leave the commission in one state but arrive on the national statute books in entirely another, without any assessments having been done in the meantime.

MEPs and the council (representing member states) "should follow up on major amendments" to look at their potential effects on consumers, businesses or the environment, she said Monday (9 February) at the Brussels-based CEPS thinktank.

As laws weave their way through the legislative system they should be subject to a "living" impact assessment, she added.

Jens Hedstroem, from industry group Business Europe, also noted that parliament "seldom" makes assessments of substantial amendments and "that's a real problem".

Germany's anti-bureaucracy chief Johannes Ludewig drew special attention to the trialogues - behind-the-scenes discussions between officials from the commission, council and parliament to patch together a deal on laws.

Done beyond the public eye, and with no formal record-taking, the effects of whatever is agreed often only come to light long after the law is in place.

"Do the people in the trialogue - who take a more or less preliminary decision - do they have any idea of the consequences (of the changes they make)? Is anyone reflecting what these changes mean in terms of cost? Today certainly not," said Ludewig.

He noted that Germany has taken several steps to curb unnecessary bureaucracy including making ministries thoroughly assess the costs of laws before they get formally tabled and an ex-post check to see if the "objectives were really achieved".

Ludewig said this should also be the case at the EU level as "more than 60 percent of costs stemming from legislation (in Germany) is coming from Brussels".

The three EU institutions are meant to reach a "better law-making" agreement this year.

"No idea"

But Ludewig indicated that changing the way things are traditionally done will be difficult.

He says the person who represents Germany in the council working group - which precooks laws then signed off by ministers at the political level - has "no idea" of the effect of a possible law on business, citizens or the administration.

"How can you negotiate on something in the council working group, having no idea what the impact is on Germany?

"You would not believe how difficult it is to convince our colleagues in the ministries. Nobody ever asked them to do something like that."

Detailing other changes to its law-making culture, the commission's Klingbeil notes that the impact assessment board will remain within its walls but will now contain officials working full-time on the issue as well as outside experts. There will also for the first time be evaluations of laws already in place.

But she also noted that decisions on laws are not dependent on expert evaluations of their effects.

"It's a political judgement."

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