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Frans Timmermans, Europe’s new red-tape cutter in chief, is off to a decent start but the battle for an EU that meddles less in citizens’ life is just getting started. Pawel Swidlicki responds to the European Commission’s work priorities published earlier this week.
19 December 2014
On Tuesday, the Commission presented its priorities for the upcoming year, including a commitment to “less EU interference in [citizen’s] daily lives.” In our mandate to the new Commission, we set out a series of proposals for a less interfering EU, tipping Frans Timmermans – then Dutch Foreign Minister, and now the EU’s master red-tape cutter – as the ideal person to enforce this. Having sifted through the details, does Timmermans’ claim that “this time things really are different,” stack up? As far as we can see, there are three elements to Timmermans’ much needed push-back.
Timmermans wants to scrap 80 out of 450 pending proposals. Similar exercises have been done before for proposals for which there’s no Qualified Majority amongst national ministers. What’s new is a six-month deadline for three proposals, including the controversial proposal to amend the Pregnant Workers Directive. This is great news, and exactly the type of guillotine mechanism that Open Europe is consistently pushing for. Many more EU proposals need to be subjected to this mechanism.
There are some less meaningful measures involved:
A further 79 measures were identified for evaluation, amendment or repeal as part of the ongoing REFIT exercise. While the majority of the measures flagged up for repeal have as above been overtaken by new legislation, some of those flagged up for evaluation include some significant regulations and directive ranging from those dealing with CO2 emissions from light duty vehicles, social and employment and health and safety laws, chemicals and machinery standards, and public procurement.
As we’ve always argued, strengthening the filters at the earliest stages of EU law-making is absolutely vital – once a Commission proposal is tabled, it often takes on a life of its own. De Volkskrant reported earlier this week that Timmermans vetoed an astonishing 62 of a total of 64 proposals submitted by Energy Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, earning him the nickname ‘Dr. No’. If true, this really would represent a break with the Commission’s trigger-happy approach to new legislation.
It’s also encouraging that Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday appointed Edmund Stoiber – who’s spent years arguing for less EU red tape – as a special advisor. However, one proposal is conspicuously absent from the Commission’s work programme: despite some warm words about building a closer relationship with national parliaments, this is not followed up with concrete steps to boost their involvement.