EU Referendum

EU regulation: sending a message


000a EUlaw-015 cut.jpgThe much-hyped "Cut EU Red Tape" report has been issued this morning by No 10, and presented to the Cabinet with great fanfare.

To describe it as pathetic would be a compliment, but what makes it so is that while it was presented to our local government – as in the Cabinet (see pic below) – it is actually addressed to "the European Commission, European governments, and the European Parliament", who are urged "to take these recommendations forward rapidly". In other words, in speaking to power, the six "business leaders" fronting the report have illustrated with utmost clarity, where the power really lies.

As to its recommendations, there are thirty listed and these are more than pathetic. Frankly, they are embarrassing, in scope, in their superficiality and in demonstrating the report authors' abject ignorance of the regulatory system and how it works.

Take just one recommendation, which addresses the Commission's "unnecessary proposals on shale gas". The report authors start by citing a "business organisation" which tells us that "Shale gas is a potentially game changing resource where, in the US, it has slashed energy prices and helped spur a re-industrialisation".

"As we continue to struggle to rebalance our economy and balance our books, we cannot ignore this potentially significant resource", the organisation tells us, with the problem then defined. "New European legislation could increase costs to business and threaten the exploitation of this valuable source of energy, without offering any additional environmental protection.

In conclusion, we are thus told that, "there is no need for a new detailed Directive on shale gas. The current regulatory framework ensures proper environmental safeguards are in place, is tried and tested, and is well understood by businesses".

So say our six "business leaders": "A new Directive would bring years of uncertainty, deterring investors. Instead, guidance should be produced to clarify how existing EU environmental regulation applies to the new possibilities of shale gas exploitation. This would minimise scope for differences in interpretation, and enable safe and sustainable exploitation of shale gas".

These great leaders really should read this blog. They would find that, not only is a new directive in the Commission work programme for this year, as recently as last week Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told the European Parliament that it was going ahead – and needs to do so to see off the Parliament's attempts to add amendments to existing proposals.

Thus, before this report was even launched, this recommendation was dead in the water. The Commission is going ahead with a directive, and not the slightest notice will be taken of the report. 

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Similarly, in recommendation thirteen, the "Six" urge the Commission, etc, to "drop costly new proposals on environmental impact assessments". Yet, in that very same session in the European Parliament that we heard Connie Hedegaard declare that the shale gas directive was going ahead, we saw the EIA directive get its first reading. The Commission is no more likely to withdraw the directive than fly. The report recommendation is a complete waste of space.

Then, bizarrely, we have a recommendation calling for the removal of "excessive rules on country of origin labelling for food", accompanied by the assertion that, "Rigid criteria could also prevent business from using voluntary origin indicators, for instance by identifying meat as coming from Scotland or Wales rather than the UK".

This is tabloid stuff and has no place in such a report – that claim has already been denied by the Commission, representing the fevered assertions of a number of national newspapers, misreading a comment by a Defra official at a seminar. As to the country of origin labelling rules (COOL), these - as we have seen - are implementing the Codex standard and the WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin.

Here in all its glory then, the report reveals the profound ignorance of its authors. No serious student of regulation would wade into this complex area, knowing that this is governed by global agreements which can scarce be changed.

As for the rest of the regulations, I could go through them line by line, but I don't really want to. It would make this post far too long and, in any case, I'm not getting paid to do so.

In passing, though, we see a recommendation for the introduction of "a risk-based process for the evaluation of plant protection products" yet, once again, we see that this is a regulatory area governed by international agreements, via the OECD and UNECE, amongst others. The report recommendation is another waste of space.

The "Six" also wants the Commission to withdraw proposals on soil protection, another of its more fatuous proposals. Had they been abreast of recent developments, they would have known that this issue came up in respect of the REFIT initiative, and the Commission is already considering its withdrawal. The input of this report is unnecessary and irrelevant.

Summing up the report, its recommendations fall into three categories. Either they address issues which are already being dealt with, as with soil protection, they impinge on international agreements where changes cannot be made, even of the Commission was prepared to make them, or – as a final category – attack core EU political initiatives, which the Commission simply will not change.

Largely, the report is a complete waste of effort, written by people who have been selected for their glitz rather than their knowledge, mainly to give the prime minister some good headlines, and to give apparent substance to the claim that he is doing something to reduce the encroachment if EU rules.

The worst of it, though, is that there are few in the media or in parliament who have the knowledge to understand quite how dire and cynical a piece of work this is, so all we get is a torrent of ill-informed coverage. 

And UKIP, the one organisation above all others that should be calling foul on the process, is silent - at the time of writing. Even if it did now have anything intelligent to say, it has already missed the boat. The party has been given an open goal and, once again, its press office is out to lunch. That is part of our problem.