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24th Jun 2018

EU to shed light on law-making 'kitchen'

  • Timmermans wants to cut EU red tape and open the legislative process to public scrutiny (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission on Tuesday (19 May) presented plans designed to rid itself of its image as of an out-of-touch and overactive bureaucracy.

The package unveiled by commission vice-president Frans Timmermans foresees opening up the legislative process to business and civil society and assessing the impact of laws more thoroughly.

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"All the windows will be open and the kitchen and cooks will be visible," Timmermans said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

"But it’s the quality of the food that will determine the success of the process."

One of the key issues will be getting MEPs and the Eu Council - representing member states - to consider the potential impact their changes have on draft laws, something the commission hopes to get written into an inter-institutional agreement by the end of the year.

A year after European elections resulted in a record number of seats for anti-establishment parties, the commission is sending the message that it wants to scale back on law-making.

"Eurosceptics are not wrong by definition. Eurosceptics annoy me because they are sometimes right. And when they are right we have to answer to them," Timmermans said.

The commission has been publicly burnt by past initiatives, such as one in 2012, hastily withdrawn, seeking to ban jugs of olive oil in restaurants.

A regulatory scrutiny board of seven members including three from outside the commission will replace the impact assessment board created in 2006. It will be chaired by a person independent of the commission hierarchy.

The so-called Refit programme, launched in 2012 to assess the efficiency of existing EU rules, will be revised to focus on the causes of inefficiency and on cost assessment.

The commission is also pledging that "any stakeholder with concerns or suggestions will be able to present their views on the impact of EU laws and suggest how the legislation can be improved".

In its effort to be more transparent, the commission will launch a website called Lighten the Load - Have Your Say, where the public will be able to comment on EU legislation.

"We want to hear what people find irritating, burdensome, or in need of improvement. We will respond by following up directly, or sending the comment”, says the executive.

In addition, drafts of EU texts to complete or implement legislation will be open to the public on the commission’s website and the comments will be forwarded to experts working on the legislation.

Cultural revolution

For a commission used to producing draft laws in many fields in a semi-transparent process, this Better Regulation package amounts to a "cultural revolution", says an official.

It also poses an institutional challenge to the European Parliament and the Council, the other EU co-legislators.

"Given our shared responsibility to the EU public at large, we call upon the other institutions to do likewise, and work together with us to achieve," the commission said.

It also asked MEPs and member states to "be more transparent and participative" and "commit to better legal drafting so that EU laws are correct, comprehensible, clear, and consistent".

Member states, in particular, are asked to avoid "unjustified 'gold plating' of EU rules when transposing them into national law".

Timmermans dismissed the idea of a power grab on EU legislation by the commission and experts.

"The politicians will decide. Independent experts can advise, but the decision making is not taken out of hands of politicians," he said, adding that "impact assessment will put politicians in a position of better informed decisions".

Industry lobbyists Business Europe welcomed the package. Cefic, the European chemical industry council, also hailed the sommission’s "intention and proposal".

But more than 50 NGOs, such as the European consumer association (Beuc), Finance Watch, and Friends of the Earth Europe, announced they were setting up their own “better regulation watchdog”.

They voiced concern the commission’s agenda will "weaken or undermine essential regulations and subordinate the public good to corporate interests".

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