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Will Frans Timmermans do ‘Better Regulation’ any better than his predecessors in the European Commission? Who? Frans Timmermans has been given responsibility, as First Vice-President of the European Commission, for ‘Better Regulation’. What is that? ‘Better Regulation’ refers to the introduction of laws and regulations, the reduction of ‘red tape’, and the achievement of an efficient and effective Union;

A Simplified Outline of the Better Regulation System

Before the EU takes action it must

·         Publish roadmaps describing planned initiatives

·         Examinepotential economic, social and environmental consequences, using Commission impact assessments.

After EU action

·         Policy initiatives are evaluated to check their performance, after implementation

·         Opportunities to reduce regulatory burdens and simplify existing laws are identified, using REFIT (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme).

Public consultations

·         At various stages of the process, businesses, private individuals and organisations are invited to express their views through public consultations.

·         Interested parties can be notified by e-mail on new roadmaps and/or public consultations anyone by contact with ‘Commission at Work- Notifications’.

·        Those who represent organisations, or are self-employed carrying out activities influencing the        policy and decision-making processes of the EU institutions, can register on the EU Transparency Register.

In making laws and regulations, the EU tries to maximise the benefits, while minimising the negative impacts. That is easier said than done. Accusations have been made that excessive ‘Brussels bureaucracy’ has frequently hampered the achievement of key goals.  And yet, having one common rule should be simpler and more efficient than the complex web of varying rules that exist on the same issue in each Member State. The challenge for Frans and the Commission is to keep legislation simple – not to go beyond what is strictly necessary to achieve policy goals and to avoid overlapping layers of regulation.

The Commission boasts of its success in striving for simplicity in assessing the impact of policies, legislation, trade agreements and other measures at every stage – from planning to implementation and review.The appointment ofFrans Timmermans suggests a re-think is underway in Brussels.

Barosso’s swan song

The outgoing European Commission talked of ‘Smart Regulation’, rather than‘Better Regulation’. And in a swan song Press Conference on 14 October, José Manuel Durão Barosso, President of the European Commission,argued that– “Smart regulation is…essential to boost growth and jobs in Europe and we have spared no effort to make it happen during the last 10 years. I believe we can be proud of what we have achieved during this period which is nothing less than a true culture change in the Commission’s way of working”.

Not all commentators would be as positive in their assessments. Nevertheless, at the same press conference, Dr Edmund Stoiber, Chairman of the High-Level Group on Administrative Burdens, stated  – ‘The conclusion I draw from my past seven years of work in an honorary capacity is positive: we have achieved far more than I myself expected. With a reduction of over EUR 33 billion, our target has been considerably exceeded. The most important achievement has been a new way of thinking: President Barroso has departed from the decades-old attitude that every EU regulation, however detailed, is inevitably good for European integration”.

If Barosso and Stoiber are right, has Frans Timmermans’s task on ‘Better Regulation’ been made easier? The answer he gave at the European Parliament Hearing, on 7 October, gives some indication of how seriously he takes the challenges he faces. He argued that he – “…will care passionately that every single one of the measures that makes up the ED’s rulebook is of top quality – as effective, as appropriate, as operational, as up to date, as simple as possible. The benefits of Union law for citizens, business, and wider society will not materialise unless legislation is well designed and applied effectively on the ground. We need to work together to make this happen.

Time will tell, as to whether these objectives are achieved, or not. The real check will be to see how successful the EU is in regulating in the public interest to achieve a variety of goals —achieving a fair and competitive market place, protection of health, provision of safety and preservation of the environment. Watch this space!

Tom Ferris is a consultant economist specialising in Public Sector Governance, Better Regulation and Transport Economics. He was Senior Economist in the Department of Transport until February 2006. Since then, he has undertaken consultancy projects for the World Bank, the OECD, the High Level Group on Business Regulation, and a number of private sector companies. He is an occasional lecturer in public sector economics at NUIG, UCC, and Public Affairs Ireland and he writes regularly for PAI Publications. He holds a Masters degree in economics from University College Dublin and a Fellowship from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.