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Tag ‘Barroso’

Are British businesses really being strangled by EU red tape?

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Based on a contentious Business for Britain (BfB) report, a wide range of media reported on 14 October that there have been 3,600 new laws in three years as the EU “strangles” UK firms and that it would take 92 days to read all the regulations.

All this needs to be seen in perspective. Of course, even if it is true that it would take three months to read these regulations – which is a striking if debatable statistic – it is of limited relevance as no-one could possibly need to undertake such a task. Rules on type approval for lorries are of doubtful interest to a financial services company. Soft toy manufacturers do not need to read rules on sheep farming.

Second, the BfB report contains a series of factual errors, wrongly claiming for example that the EU is seeking to impose laws banning high heels for hairdressers, UK flags on meat packaging and olive oil on restaurant tables. These claims appear to be based on nothing more concrete than – false – reports in the Eurosceptic UK press…and in a superb example of circularity, they are today repeated in those same newspapers as if the BfB report constituted irrefutable independent research.

Third, most businesses, while no doubt wanting EU and national regulation to be as light as possible, seem to fundamentally disagree that they are being strangled by EU red tape. How else to explain surveys today by the largest manufacturing association, the EEF, and in September by the CBI demonstrating that eight or more out of ten businesses want to stay in the EU? Presumably if they really were being strangled, they would be crawling gasping for breath towards the exit…

Fourth, it is interesting to look at some examples quoted by, say, the Daily Mail as evidence of outrageous interference “handed down from Brussels” (rather than “negotiated and agreed by the UK”, as is in fact the case in the vast majority of cases).

It turns out that, unsexy as many of the rules are, they are necessary either to prevent potentially serious harm or for the single market to work or more often than not, for both of those reasons.

Yes, there do need to be rules on “anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay” or there would soon be no more anchovies. Rules on the labelling of spirits ensure that drinkers know what they are buying and that exporters do not have to comply with a whole series of different national rules.

It is likely that British consumers would agree that the addition of ammonium chloride- a potentially dangerous chemical if overused – as a feed additive for animals does need to be regulated. They might also want to know in clear terms how much energy water heaters use, so they can save on gas and electricity bills. Maximum residue levels for weedkillers are necessary to ensure children do not get poisoned.

There is no doubt that not all of these rules are perfect. The European Commission would be the first to agree that regulation needs to be smart and proportionate and that EU regulations do need to be regularly screened and updated and sometimes even removed. The Commission has a long record of working closely with the UK on this and always takes UK government and business input seriously.

The Commission has taken a whole series of steps recently to advance this better regulation agenda. For example, President Barroso announced earlier this month further simplification and deregulation, building on substantial progress over last few years – this was welcomed by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BiS).

President José Manuel Barroso welcomed in turn the report on 15 October from the business leaders’ group set up by BiS, saying:

“In the last five years, the European Commission has slashed the cost of administrative burdens by 32.3 billion euros (27.4 billion GBP) and scrapped 5590 legal acts. And we are determined to go further.

Common rules are essential to make the single market work properly but I also want to make sure that the EU does not meddle where it should not and member states do not add additional burdens (“gold plating”). We have already acted on a range of specific issues where we have heard businesses’ concerns. “

So without any doubt, action on better regulation is necessary and it is happening.

But the broad picture is that rather than imposing additional red tape that would not exist without the EU, single market rules replace 28 national rules with a single EU rule, thus making life a lot easier for UK businesses operating across borders and boosting the overall economy at the same time. That is why the UK government has estimated the benefits of the single market to the UK economy as at least £31 billion and up to £92 billion a year.

The bottom line is that sloganeering over “red tape” often hides a much more complex reality, as we explained in more detail in this earlier blog piece.

This entry was originally posted on 14th October 2013 and was last updated on 15th October 2013.

What EC President Barroso really said in the European Parliament on 11 September

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Reporting EC President José Manuel Barroso’s State of the Union speech to the European Parliament yesterday, the Mirror said that he had said that: “UK hostility to EU may start a war”. The Mail went with: “taking power back from EU risks return to war, says top eurocrat.”

The Sun chose the headline: “EU chief: Cam risking War”. The BBC claimed in some bulletins that Mr Barroso had suggested that “attempts to claw back powers from Brussels” could lead to war.

In fact, Mr Barroso had said in the speech, shortly after the very passage the media had seized on: “I recognize: like any human endeavour, the EU is not perfect. For example, controversies about the division of labour between the national and European levels will never be conclusively ended.”

So to suggest that his speech had said that calling for a change in the balance between European and national competencies would mean war was – to put it mildly – a highly creative interpretation.

What he actually said in the passage that some media seized on was the following:

“Next year, it will be one century after the start of the First World War. A war that tore Europe apart, from Sarajevo to the Somme. We must never take peace for granted. We need to recall that it is because of Europe that former enemies now sit around the same table and work together.

It is only because they were offered a European perspective that now even Serbia and Kosovo come to an agreement, under mediation of the EU. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize reminded us of that historic achievement: that Europe is a project of peace. We should be more aware of it ourselves.

Sometimes I think we should not be ashamed to be proud. Not arrogant. But more proud. We should look towards the future, but with a wisdom we gained from the past.

Let me say this to all those who rejoice in Europe’s difficulties and who want to roll back our integration and go back to isolation: the pre-integrated Europe of the divisions, the war, the trenches, is not what people desire and deserve. The European continent has never in its history known such a long period of peace as since the creation of the European Community. It is our duty to preserve it and deepen it.”

In another passage, ignored by most of the UK media, the EC President was explicit that:

“Not everything needs a solution at European level. Europe must focus on where it can add most value. Where this is not the case, it should not meddle. The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things – something we may occasionally have neglected in the past. The EU needs to show it has the capacity to set both positive and negative priorities. As all governments, we need to take extra care of the quality and quantity of our regulation knowing that, as Montesquieu said, ‘les lois inutiles affaiblissent les lois nécessaires’. [‘Useless laws weaken the necessary ones’.] But there are, honourable members, areas of major importance where Europe must have more integration,more unity. Where only a strong Europe can deliver results.”

There were indeed robust exchanges with the Leader of the European Conservative and Reform Group in the European Parliament, Martin Callanan, and with UKIP leader Nigel Farage after the speech. Both had robustly attacked the Commission and its President, as is their right.

What Mr Barroso said in response to Mr Callanan was:

 “Mr Callanan, you said, making a joke about possible competitors for the Commission election, that you are not interested in that job that you are very happy with yours. Let me tell you very frankly that I think even if you were interested you could not have a chance to be elected for President of the Commission.  And you know why? I am not saying that happily, because I think increasingly, your party and your group are looking like the UKIP and the Eurosceptic European group. And I start to have some doubts that you are going to be elected yourself in Britain, if it is not UKIP that is going to be the first force in the British elections, because when it comes to being against Europe, the people prefer, between the original and the copy, they prefer the original, that is probably why they are going to vote more for Mr Farage than for Mr Callanan.

And this I don’t say with any kind of satisfaction, because even if we have some differences, we have worked in many areas very constructively with conservatives, the British conservatives and the Conservative group. We have worked together for the internal market, for reform; we have worked together against some kind of regulation; we have worked together in many areas, including free trade.

But this is an important point, I think, because if those forces that are pro-European or even those that are not really pro-European but constructive, have the same speech, the same political attitude of the anti-Europeans, the eurosceptics, the populists, then in that case, they [the populists] will win the next elections……”

Mr Barroso went on to say the following, in a combined reaction to Green leader Rebecca Harms, who had said that the EU was not doing enough to tackle climate change, and to Mr Farage, who had said that “we may have made one of the biggest and most stupid collective mistakes in history by getting so worried about global warming.”

“Mrs Harms, when you say that Europe has done nothing or that in climate change there is zero, come on, let’s be real! Europe is leading in the world in terms of the objective for climate change. About CO2 cars, the proposals that were put forward by the Commission, if you are not satisfied with the solution now, ask the question to the Member States not to the Commission. We are keeping a very strong commitment to climate change.

Mr Farage shows that populists are sometimes obscurantists. 99% of the science, Mr Farage, believes that climate change exists as a result of human activity. 99% of scientists!

 Of course there are always people that are paid to say the opposite. But to pretend, as you pretend, that against all science, well established science, that the problem of climate change is just an invention of the Greens, or of the left, is complete nonsense.

Of course we have to find a way; of course we have to find a sensible way to fight climate change. We have to look at the same time for competitiveness in Europe, we have to make this part of our agenda for growth and I believe that the green economy brings many possibilities.

It would be a mistake just to put the case on climate change on environmental matters. That is of course decisive; it’s an existential thing for our planet, the conservation of our planet. But we have to make the case, also in terms of economy, in terms of our health, because in fact we have seen, increasingly, natural disasters that most scientists attribute to climate change. So this is important, and I think that is almost incredible that the leader of one European Parliament group says that it is an invention of some political forces [when it is], something that has been established clearly by science.

I believe in science and I believe part of the solutions for our problems is through more science, more innovation, more research, more technology, and this is the way for Europe to address these problems.”

The full State of the Union speech can be found here and the full debate here

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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