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The European Commission recently updated its Better Regulation Agenda, a process that had started nearly twenty years ago. It is a process that strives to ensure that EU law-making is truly evidence-based and transparent, and that it incorporates the views of those that may be affected. According to the Commission – Given the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in the COVID-19 recovery and the green and digital transitions, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible, with an eye on the future”. 

This blog looks at the changes and the implications of the updating that has taken place.

 

What is Better Regulation?

The European Commission has responsibility for designing and evaluating EU policies and laws in a transparent manner. They are required to be based on evidence and informed by the views of citizens and stakeholders, such as businesses, public administrations, researchers and experts. So who takes overall responsibility for delivery of Better Regulation? In fact, it is the Secretariat General of the European Commission that is responsible. This work has been neatly summarised by the OECD in its report ‘Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018’ 

BOX A reproduces an overview from the OECD report. It should be noted that in undertaking its work, the Secretariat General has links with the European Parliament and the European Court of Auditors.

What is in Better Regulation Update?

The updating of the Better Regulation Agenda is set-out in the European Commission publication, ‘Better Regulation; Joining Forces to make better laws’.   At the launch of the report Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, said: The Commission already has one of the best Better Regulation systems in the world but we still need to do more. Therefore, we are stepping up efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce its burden, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation. To succeed, however, all stakeholders must work together on high-quality EU policymaking that will translate into a stronger, more resilient Europe.” 

 

The report emphasises the importance of cooperation among the EU institutions, with Member States and stakeholders, including the social partners, businesses and civil society if the Better Regulation agenda is to be successful. Six areas for action have been presented by the European Commission; they have been designed to help face current and future challenges. Box B summarises the six action areas:

 

Other support for Better Regulation

It should be recognised that the European Commission cannot implement all of the actions on its own. This point was made by the Commission – “Better Regulation is a shared objective and responsibility of all EU institutions”. 

The European Parliament and the Council have also to play their roles in assessing and monitoring the impact of EU legislation and EU spending programmes.

It should also be noted that some of the ‘new’ actions have already started in practice, such as the work of the Fit for Future Platform, which provides advice on ways to make EU legislation easier to comply with, efficient and fit for the future. Other actions will be implemented in the coming months. The Commission also plans for :

o The 2020 Annual Burden Survey, outlining the results of the Commission’s burden reduction efforts, and

o The revised Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox to take into account the new elements of the Communication, providing concrete guidance to European Commission services when preparing new initiatives and proposals as well as when managing and evaluating existing.

Some reactions

The revised Better Regulation agenda is to be welcomed. The agenda should be fully implemented in order to ensure that EU law-making is truly evidence-based and transparent, and that it incorporates the views of those that may be affected.  In the case of the ‘one in, one out’ approach for policy-making, every effort should be made to ensure it is not arbitrary. Each area of regulation must be judged on its merits. If a new regulation is justified, it should be introduced.  If an existing regulation is outdated or no longer relevant, it should be amended or revoked. In short, the overall concern should not be a count of the number of regulations in place, but the quality of the individual regulations. I have written about this in an earlier blog for PAI – ‘Limited merit in President Trump’s Plan to reduce Regulation’.

 

In conclusion, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) issued an interesting joint statement on the revised EU’s Better Regulation. They give it a guarded welcome. However, the joint statement contests the need for the ‘one in, one out’ approach. It also questions the Commission’s emphasis on cost and burden reduction risks, as it may overshadow  – “…the need for ambitious initiatives and effective implementation of EU flagship initiatives such as reaching climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and the objectives set out by the European Pillar of Social Rights”. The WWF and the ETUC do finish on a positive note, namely“ Further steps for improving the questionnaires for public consultations should… be considered, such as ensuring that the questions and policy options are based on sound evidence and science and that the replies of different respondents are weighted properly according to their representativeness”.

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and blogs regularly for PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport, Ireland.