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26th Feb 2024

'Doing less' group may conclude EU should do more

  • Documents distribution in the European Parliament. The density of EU legislation does not come from 'a perversion in the head of the European decision-makers', says Committee of the Regions president Karl-Heinz Lambertz (Photo: European Parliament)

A group investigating which policy areas could be better dealt with at a national instead of a European level could end up concluding the opposite - that the EU should expand its policies.

The group is called the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and 'Doing Less More Efficiently' and was set up by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last November.

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But after five monthly meetings of the task force, and a public hearing on Monday (28 May), one of its key members remained unconvinced that 'Brussels' should give back any powers to member states.

"Doing less must be interpreted. What does it mean?", Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the Committee of Regions, told EUobserver in an interview.

"Until now, there is no really concrete proposal on it," he said.

'Doing less more efficiently' is also one of Juncker's five possible future scenarios for the EU.

The task force is led by Juncker's first vice president Frans Timmermans.

Its members count three people from the Committee of the Regions, a Brussels-based body representing cities and regions, and three MPs from national parliaments.

The European Parliament declined an invitation to participate because it has a standing policy not to take part in commission-led groups.

One of the group's three missions is, according to its website, to "identify policy areas where work could be re-delegated or definitely returned to EU countries".

On Monday, Timmermans asked the attendees of the hearing to come up with proposals where responsibility for lawmaking could be returned to national or even regional levels of government.

"You would really help us if you could just give us some concrete ideas of areas or specific subjects where you could say: 'it made perfect sense twenty year ago for the EU to be active in this area, now it would be better to leave this up to the regions or the member states'," said Timmermans.

"I would love to have a number of those subjects," the Dutchman added.

But Lambertz noted that these ideas would have to be submitted "in the next days", otherwise it would be too late to include them in the draft report due to be discussed at the next task force meeting on 21 June.

EUobserver asked him if he thought such concrete ideas would start pouring in.

"I don't know, but I'm not sure and it is not our intention to bring some examples on the table," he said.

In April, his Committee of Regions (CoR) published a paper in which it said it had not found any suitable areas for re-nationalisation of powers.

"The CoR has not identified any entire policy areas of either shared or exclusive competence where it considers that no EU added value could ever be envisaged in the future, and therefore does not have suggestions to permanently remove any of the shared or exclusive competences enshrined in the treaties by transferring them to the member states," it said.

In fact, Lambertz confirmed that one possible outcome of the task force was that it would recommend that the EU should get involved in more policy areas, as has already been set in motion in areas like migration and defence.

Lambertz said the Committee of Regions was much more interested in another side of 'doing less', which the German-speaking Belgian called 'Regelungsdichte' – the density of regulation.

This relates to the EU "prescribing too much details" when adopting common rules.

However, there are "concrete reasons" why EU legislation is often so complicated.

"It comes not from nowhere. It comes not from a perversion in the head of the European decision-makers," said Lambertz.

EU laws are often complex because of the preceding discussions, in which 28 member states and eight political groups in the European Parliament lobby for exceptions and amendments.

Another reason is a lack of trust that national authorities will carry out rules in the same way, he said.

It is unclear how that can be solved by the task force, which is expected to publish its report in July.

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