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Tag ‘Red Tape’

The EU is investing billions in tackling cancer – not denying treatment

Thursday, June 9th, 2016
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Rating: 4.3/5 (37 votes cast)

Summary

A number of media articles have claimed that “EU red tape” is denying cancer patients access to new treatments.

This is not the case.

Various EU initiatives, backed by billions of euros from the EU budget, encourage Europe’s top scientists, businesses large and small and leading medical professionals to get new drugs to patients as rapidly and safely as possible.

And Europe-wide authorisation by the European Medicines Agency means more people get access to more medicines more quickly than they could if each country authorised them separately.

Details

Delivering new drugs to patients is a multi-stage process.

First, they need to be developed from scratch.

The European Commission has invested about €2.1 billion in cancer research projects since 2007. Some outstanding examples are described in simple terms here. The pace is likely to increase under the 2014-2020 Horizon 2020 programme, which is about 35% larger than its 2007-13 predecessor known as FP7.

Read the full entry

EU state aid rules do not slow down urban broadband

Friday, May 20th, 2016
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Rating: 3.9/5 (30 votes cast)

In an article “EU red tape leaves urban homes in internet slow lane” published on 18 May, the Daily Telegraph slams EU “red tape” for hampering UK Government efforts to rollout high-speed broadband in urban areas that don’t have it yet. The article implies that EU state aid rules prevent public subsidies for such rollout.

This is untrue.

In fact, the European Commission’s 2013 Broadband Guidelines for state aid explain how state aid rules apply to the rollout of fast broadband and how investment can be made more quickly.

In 2012 the Commission approved the previous National Broadband Scheme for the UK for rural areas . In May 2016 the Commission endorsed the new UK broadband scheme for 2016-2020 within a month of its notification by the UK authorities.

Read the full entry

Daily Express’s “11 barmy EU rules” either do not exist or are rather sensible

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015
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Rating: 3.9/5 (34 votes cast)

A pop-up on the Express web site, appearing for some time now via various pages featuring EU “news” and prominent in online searches, is headlined “Brussels’ craziest decisions.”

It cites “the top eleven unusual rules proposed by Brussels that seem too barmy to be true”.

That is because about half of these stories are simply not true. And the others are seriously misleading.

Read the full entry

Ten things Europe has done for the UK – and others – since the last European Parliament elections in 2009

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
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Rating: 4.3/5 (13 votes cast)

With the European Parliament elections coming up this week, here are some highlights of the work the EU has done over the last five years. The results of the elections on 22 May will be crucial in deciding how all this will be pursued over the next five years.

Since 2009, Europe has, among other things:

1/ Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly
2/ Given consumers a better deal
3/ Massively boosted research, innovation and science
4/ Cut red tape
5/ Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent
6/ Acted to protect the environment
7/ Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds
8/ Protected animal welfare
9/ Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs
10/ Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies

This is not an exhaustive list. Foreign affairs issues and trade and development issues, for example, are not included here.

We focus on things that are important to the British public and to British business and pick out mostly areas where the European Parliament, as well as the European Commission, has played a key role.

Fundamentally, all of these policies aim to create sustainable growth and jobs.

More information on all of the areas mentioned can be found via the onward links below.

 

1/Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly

One of the main reasons for the crisis which began in 2007 and from which most of the EU is only now beginning to emerge was lax regulation of banking and financial services.

The EU has addressed this comprehensively with a far-reaching programme of reform, with over 40 new EU laws adopted, to encourage long-term investment and sensible lending and to prevent reckless risk-taking and future crises.

Other jurisdictions, particularly the United States, have also implemented radical reforms, following G20 commitments which the EU took a lead role in negotiating.

The UK has always been a strong supporter of the single market in financial services and has played a leading role in negotiating the reforms, based on proposals by the Commission and in agreement with the European Parliament, where the relevant committee has been chaired by a British MEP.

Last week, the Commission issued an overview of the progress made and of the macro-economic benefits expected from the measures taken: for example, reforms in the banking sector alone are estimated to boost EU GDP by about 0.6-1.1% per year (or about €75-140 billion per year, based on 2013 EU GDP).

 

2/Given consumers a better deal

The EU has forced further drastic cuts to cross-border mobile telephone and data (roaming) charges. Overall, the EU has slashed roaming costs by 50% for calls and 93% for data

Air passenger rights have been strengthened so that cancellations and endless delays without compensation are becoming a thing of the past. What is more, similar rights have been extended to other forms of transport.

Food safety measures have been reinforced, partly in response to the horsemeat scandal.

Electronic appliances are becoming greener and cheaper to run thanks to tough new eco-design standards and clearer labelling.

Consumer rights, notably for purchases made across borders, are also now stronger than five years ago. The Commission is currently running a campaign to inform businesses and consumers about their rights and obligations.

What is more, thanks to new EU wide provisions for Alternative Dispute Resolution, consumers will soon be able to solve any dispute with EU-based traders – including online traders – without going to court.

 

3/Massively boosted European research, innovation and science

Through stiff Europe-wide competition, EU research and innovation funding drives standards higher than national funding schemes alone ever could.

Most of the EU budget has been cut. But funding for research and innovation will go up by nearly 40% to EUR 80 billion under the new Horizon 2020 programme. Horizon 2020 has a clear focus on global challenges like cancer, climate change and the security of energy and food supplies.

There will be big boosts for the European Research Council, which funds cutting edge work by Europe’s leading established and up and coming researchers and for the European Institute of Technology and Innovation, which focuses on turning new ideas into the hi-tech products of tomorrow.

UK researchers, universities and businesses got about EUR 8 bn/£6.6 bn from the 2007-13 programme – that is set to increase to about EUR 12 bn/£10 bn under Horizon 2020, if the UK maintains the same level of performance.

Among other steps forward in the fields of science and innovation have been the adoption – at last – of a European patent that will boost incentives to innovate and save business billions.

Also noteworthy is the launch of the first satellites under the Galileo programme for global satellite navigation and the Copernicus European system for monitoring the Earth, which will help prevent and respond to natural disasters .

 

4/Cut red tape

The natural tendency of much EU regulation is to reduce red tape by replacing the need for businesses to comply with 28 different sets of regulation to operate EU-wide with the requirement to comply with just one set of rules

But the burden of regulation – whether EU or national – on businesses and citizens needs to be as light as is consistent with protecting the public interest.

So over the last five years, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have – often in cooperation with the UK government among others – made cutting red tape a top priority.

In its review of cuts to EU red tape in late 2013, the Commission identified a decrease of 26% of administrative burden for businesses between 2008 and 2012, equivalent to savings of about EUR 32bn/£26 bn per year.

Some examples of the steps taken are listed here. They include among many other things reform of public procurement, exempting micro-enterprises from much EU law, VAT and customs reforms and changes making it easier for people to get their professional qualifications recognised in other Member States

The EU has also introduced a new financial regulation making it much easier to apply for EU funds and manage them if awarded.

 

5/Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent

EU energy policy over the last five years has aimed to boost energy efficiency, increase use of renewable energy (thus also cutting dependence on imported fossil fuels from Russia and the Middle East) , cut emissions and build a true single market in energy that will help ensure security of supply and keep energy costs lower than they otherwise would be.

The European Commission put forward in December 2013 a new energy and climate change package with targets for 2030, including 40% cut in emissions compared to 1990 and getting the share of renewable energy in the EU energy mix up to 27%.

The new European Parliament will by early next year consider the Commission’s review of the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive, which will be key to achieving both the 2030 targets and the existing targets for 2020.

 

6/Acted to protect the environment

The EU is tackling diesel and other air pollution which costs 29 000 lives per year in the UK alone, according to government data.

The number of zones where limits on health-damaging particles are being exceeded dropped by about 25% between 2008 and 2012. But air pollution remains far too high in many places. The Commission is taking legal action against the UK and other Member States to ensure compliance with rules they and the European Parliament agreed several years ago.

Largely as a result of EU action, the proportion of rubbish being recycled or composted across the EU has doubled from 21% in 2001 to 42% in 2012. Less is therefore going to landfill sites which can pollute the water table and cause other environmental problems. But more work on this is necessary if targets for each Member State to reach 50% by 2020 are to be reached.

The EU has adopted a far-reaching Environmental Action Programme for 2014-2020. It aims to protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience, boost resource-efficient, low-carbon growth, and reduce threats to human health and wellbeing. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States will all have a key role in delivering it and updating it.

 

7/Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds

The new Erasmus+ programme brings together and simplifies a series of earlier schemes, introduces new strands and greatly expands opportunities not only for students to study in EU countries other than their own, but also for teachers, school pupils, apprentices, volunteers, young entrepreneurs and others to benefit from training, exchanging best practice and networking across the EU.

The seven year programme will have a budget of €14.7 billion, a 40% increase compared to current spending levels. Four million people are expected to take part.

Along with research and innovation, this is one of the very few areas to see an increase in EU budget for 2014-2020.

 

8/Protected animal welfare

Among the EU-level progress made over the last five years to improve animal welfare has been the implementation – though further efforts are still necessary in some Member States -of bans on cruel treatment of laying hens and of pigs and an end to sales in the EU of cosmetics tested on animals.

The Commission has also put forward an animal welfare strategy which will cover the beginning of the next mandate and asks the European Parliament and Member States to take further decisions.

 

9/Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs

The EU budget amounts to only about 1% of GDP and about 2% of public spending in the EU. But it is economically, politically and strategically important for Europe’s future.

So there were many months of tough discussions between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States over the EU budgetary framework for 2014-2020.

These resulted in an overall cut to the budget compared to the previous seven years.

Less widely covered in the media was the major reform to the composition of the budget to focus it much more clearly on creating growth and jobs –all the EU institutions agreed on the need for that, even if the detail took a lot of hammering out! The result sees funding boosts for infrastructure projects, research and innovation and education (see above), while the share spent on agriculture (see below) will go down.

 

10/Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies

For 2014-2020, the EU has radically redesigned both the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The CAP is now much more efficient, greener and more equitable. Over the next seven years, the new CAP will invest almost EUR 25 billion in the UK farming sector and in rural areas. The budget for direct payments to farmers in the UK will remain stable despite a reduction of 3.2% at EU level. 30% of direct payments will be linked to environmentally-friendly farming practices.

Millions of fish will no longer be thrown back dead in to the sea thanks to the changes to the CFP.

The UK played a key role in these agriculture and fisheries reforms, alongside the Commission and Parliament

For a more complete picture of progress over the last five years, please see this recent round up by the European Commission.

Are British businesses really being strangled by EU red tape?

Monday, October 14th, 2013
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Rating: 3.9/5 (15 votes cast)

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.

Looking behind headlines about the cost of “Brussels red tape”

Friday, September 27th, 2013
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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)

The cost of EU regulation comes up almost weekly in the media, with various very large figures being quoted.

To read some reports one might think that the issue was simple: simply get rid of the regulations – or even of the EU altogether – and whatever astronomical sum has been quoted as the cost of EU law would be recovered for businesses and the taxpayer.

But that is far from the case and many reports on this issue are at best one-sided and at worst deliberately misleading.

Here are twelve points reports often do not have room to mention, or choose to ignore.

1/ The cost figures mentioned – which in many cases are highly contentious anyway – nearly always refer to estimates of the gross economic cost. In other words what it costs companies and individuals to comply with EU rules, without taking account of the benefits of those rules or the costs of not having them. Most UK businesses, while they might well have concerns about certain aspects, recognize the net economic benefits EU-wide regulation brings – see this recent CBI survey, where eight out of ten say they want the UK to remain in the EU.

2/ Some benefits are not primarily economic, but perhaps even more important. Having strict requirements at EU level to ensure that toys are safe, for example, certainly has a financial cost to producers but also saves children from injury and death.  Rules on food labelling help ensure that consumers know what they are buying and feeding to their families. Restrictions on tobacco packaging and advertising and rules on air quality of course involve compliance costs. But they prolong life expectancy and reduce illness. They also reduce public healthcare costs.

3/ The UK government has estimated that the EU single market is worth up to £92 billion in additional wealth annually to the UK. There could be no single market without EU regulation. EU single market rules either replace national rules or, under so-called “mutual recognition”, allow UK companies to trade Europe-wide while complying only with UK rules. There is certainly a gross cost to UK exporters for complying with EU rules requiring minimum standards and consumer safeguards for, say, electrical products. But complying with one set of rules represents a huge reduction in regulatory burden – and thus a big net benefit -compared to having to deal with a patchwork of different sets of national rules.

4/ Opponents of the EU sometimes claim EU regulation places additional burdens on UK companies that do not trade across borders. This presumes national regulation would be lighter, often not the case (see below). In any case, over 300,000 UK companies do trade with other countries in the European Union. Moreover, the reduction in bureaucracy and in costs resulting from being in the single market benefits all businesses and not just those who export to other EU Member States. Many UK SMEs purchase supplies from elsewhere in the EU at competitive prices or employ migrant workers, without excessive red tape. Others – especially in the services sector – benefit from increased demand in the economy that would not be there without the additional wealth generated by the single market.

5/ Some EU regulation is specifically designed to cut business costs and slash red tape. The Services Directive, for example, has eliminated hundreds of discriminatory, unjustified or disproportionate national requirements stopping services providers big and small from trading across borders. To take another example, the unitary EU patent will cut the costs of getting patent protection EU-wide by 80%.

6/ Other types of regulation do create extra costs for businesses, but do so in order to ensure fairness for consumers. For example, EU rules drastically cutting the cost of mobile phone roaming or those requiring proper compensation for airline passengers stranded by delayed or cancelled flights.

7/ Some other regulations may have a significant short-term cost, but help to avoid the risk of a far greater cost in the long-term.  For example, rules prohibiting the use of dangerous pesticides that harm bees have an economic cost if the replacement products are more expensive – but if bees do not flourish then many vital crops will not either, causing far greater economic and environmental damage that does not stop at national borders.

8/ The run-up to the financial and economic crisis is one of the best examples in history of the potential cost of insufficient regulation. Earlier laxity is being corrected in the EU and other jurisdictions. For example, tougher requirements on the level of capital banks must hold are being introduced. This means that banks’ ability to issue loans and trade in the markets is reduced, which reduces profits and has a cost to the economy. But the lack of sufficiently strict capital requirements before the financial crisis was one reason why banks could borrow more and more money, issue bad loans and speculate recklessly. A repeat would cost the economy trillions of pounds and millions of jobs, a huge multiple of the cost of implementing the stricter rules. EU financial regulation aims to stop that happening. By creating a level playing field, it avoids a “race to the bottom” where jurisdictions with weak oversight could attract  business unfairly and endanger everyone in the process.

9/ Another issue rarely reflected in estimates of the cost of EU regulation is whether, if EU rules were removed, Member States would simply introduce their own similar ones. For example, there have been many criticisms of the Working Time Directive. It is being reviewed. But if it were not there at all, that does not mean national governments would completely dispense with rules limiting working time or stipulating minimum breaks.  In most advanced industrial economies, there are such rules and voters might not tolerate their absence. A European framework of social and health and safety rules also means good employers in the UK cannot be undercut by less scrupulous ones elsewhere exploiting the work force and cutting corners on safety.

10/ Burdensome national rules are also sometimes blamed on the EU when they do not stem from EU law at all. In writing EU law into national law, Member States sometimes go much further than what has been agreed at EU level. This phenomenon is known as “gold plating”.  One UK example, on unnecessary requirements for mechanics working on HGVs to be trained to drive such vehicles, can be found here.  In the CBI survey referred to above, 46% of UK businesses saw reducing this sort of gold plating as a priority – more than 39% who cited reducing EU regulation itself as a priority.

11/ In some cases, purely national rules simply would not work. Take the case of pollution of the air or sea from an industrial plant across the Channel or North Sea from the UK.  Strict UK rules on such things would be entirely ineffective if neighbouring Member States did not also have such rules, as windborne or waterborne harmful material cannot be stopped at the ports. EU environmental regulation ensures that citizens have equal protection wherever they are in Europe and that companies cannot gain an unfair advantage by scrimping on environmental protection.  Again, having to make sometimes technically complex arrangements for disposing of waste or cutting emissions has a cost for businesses – but dealing with the consequences of laxer rules or of a patchwork of rules would have a far greater financial cost for taxpayers.

12/ Finally, EU-wide regulation brings benefits for trade with countries outside the European Union. Many other jurisdictions, including sometimes China, wholly or partially implement at home standards and rules similar to those applied in the EU – the world’s biggest market in GDP terms. They do this to make it easier for their companies to trade both domestically and worldwide without using different production lines and without facing “technical barriers” – obstacles to trade arising from a patchwork of fragmented rules in different jurisdictions. External access to the EU single market – and yes, to its body of rules covering a market of 500 million consumers – is also what encourages other large trading nations or blocs to negotiate trade agreements with the EU on terms they would not offer to individual Member States. This is evident in the current negotiations with the US.

What is Europe doing to improve regulation?

Of course, it is right that academics, think-tanks and media should scrutinise the costs of regulation and keep the pressure on the EU institutions to keep them as low as possible, consistent with proper functioning of markets – which cannot work without a legal framework – with safety and with consumer protection.

And EU regulations, just like national ones, are sometimes far from perfect. They have sometimes introduced avoidable costs. They need to be kept under constant review to ensure they have not become redundant thanks to technological change.

It is not good enough just for EU law to comprise a lower overall compliance cost on business than a patchwork of national laws. That cost should be reduced to the minimum compatible with the rules being fair and effective.

And sometimes, when rules or their absence have little or no cross-border effect or when there is no distortion of the single market from having different rules in different places, it is indeed more effective to leave regulation to the discretion of individual national, regional or local governments rather than seek agreement at EU level. That is the principle of subsidiarity. Commission President José Manuel Barroso recently reiterated its importance, saying: “The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things”.

So the Commission has in recent years had as a top priority improving the way EU legislation is prepared.

Major consultation exercises with stakeholders and the public precede any European Commission proposal. When draft legislation is submitted to MEPs and national ministers – who collectively make the final decisions on whether EU law will be introduced or changed and in what form it will take – it is accompanied by a detailed impact assessment setting out what the costs and benefits are expected to be. Member State governments have the opportunity to scrutinise and question those impact assessments before taking a position on whether to support the proposal.

In parallel, the Commission has streamlined existing legislation and repealed nearly 6,000 legal acts since 2005. The Administrative Burden programme launched in 2007 is cutting costs to business across Europe by around €38 billion. More detail on these and other initiatives can be found here.

In 2012, the Commission initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT).  It will publish on 2 October 2013 a report detailing the action to be taken to cut further the costs of EU regulation. That will be based on, among other things, a survey of SMEs asking them to identify the ten EU measures they found most burdensome.

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

Thursday, September 12th, 2013
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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

Getting out of a jam over EU sugar content rules

Monday, March 25th, 2013
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The sticky combination of the EU and jam has hit the headlines again with press reports announcing British jam manufacturer, Clippy McKenna, had won her fight against Brussels’ red tape to be able to market her produce as jam.

Except she hadn’t needed to fight “Brussels” because the rules – that the UK agreed – have always allowed the UK government to make exceptions to cater for cases like Ms McKenna’s.

She had found herself, in her words, “in jam no-man’s land”, because the sugar content of her produce did not meet the minimum 60% set out in EU rules, meaning she was unable to market her jam, as jam.

With headlines such as: “Ridiculous EU jam laws cut back by Vince Cable” (The Telegraph’s print version read: “Sweet success for Cable on EU jam regulation”), “When is jam not a jam? When the EU says it should be a fruit spread” “Vince Cable seeks to clear jam over EU ruling on fruit preserves“, readers could be forgiven for believing that the EU rules were a recipe for disaster.

However, what many of the reports failed to explain is that the same EU rules setting down the minimum sugar content for jams, also give member states the option to apply for an exemption to reduce this threshold.  Something other EU member states have already done. So their producers have long been able to apply lower sugar content thresholds.

Some may still not find the EU rules to their taste. However, Clippy McKenna’s particular problem simply boiled down to the way the EU law was written into UK national regulations.

UK authorities have now said they will put things right for her and launch a consultation to amend the Jam and similar products (England) Regulations 2003.

Clippy McKenna explains to Julian Worricker BBC Radio 4, You and Yours about her campaigning, how she discovered the EU rules permit member states some flexibility and her appeals to Business Secretary Vince Cable to assist in getting the UK law amended

Almunia refutes broadband “red tape” claims made in The Daily Telegraph

Friday, December 7th, 2012
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On November 22nd, The Daily Telegraph published an article “The battle to get Britain’s broadband through Brussels’ bureaucracy” in which assertions were made that a competition investigation by the European Commission was caused undue delay “thanks to European bureaucracy”.

The European Commissioner involved, Joaquín Almunia refutes the assertions made in the article and given that the journalist did not approach the Commission for comment in advance of publication, Mr Almunia sought a right to reply from The Daily Telegraph in the form of a letter to the letters page, which we submitted on November 23rd (as below). The Daily Telegraph finally published a shortened version of this on December 7th.

23/11/2012

Dear Sir,
 
I refer to your article published on 22 November that implied a slow approval procedure by the European Commission of the Broadband UK (BDUK) scheme.

BDUK was notified to the Commission in January 2012 to check compliance with EU state aid rules. We asked the UK authorities for the information needed to carry out our assessment in February 2012.

Only after seven months did we receive a complete response from the UK in October and only at that point were we in a position to complete our analysis. This was done in a matter of weeks before the final decision was taken on 20 November 2012. During our scrutiny, we raised similar issues as the House of Lords in its July report. Some of these recommendations have been inserted in the design of the scheme to ensure a more pro-competitive outcome.

Although I did meet Secretary of State Maria Miller on 8 November at her request, we had started our internal adoption procedure well before this and the decision was taken on the date initially foreseen.

I believe politicians at all levels should do all they can to avoid red tape, but in this case Brussels bureaucrats worked faster than their London colleagues!
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for competition

The situation was further clarified in an FT article of November 27th: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ee184c2-38c6-11e2-bd13-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2DzHUbNoP

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