Wait for it ... promise not to laugh ... I said, wait for it ... The EU is going to have another deregulation campaign.
Now you can laugh.
But no, not this time ... they’re serius ... reely, reely serius. They're going to cut red tape.
So say the finance and industry ministers who are meeting today to, in the words of The Financial Times. "commit themselves to a renewed onslaught on EU red tape". And they reely are serius this time, honest guv!
We are told they want "a new system" ... not another new system ... sorry, sorry ... they want "a new system to measure the cost of EU regulations". And, by George they are going to have it in place by June 2005. What’s more, it is going to pave the way for "a systematic campaign to reduce the burden on business."
Conscious that people might be a teensy weensy bit sceptical about so grand a claim Gerrit Zalm, the Dutch finance minister, told the Financial Times that past deregulation drives had, sort of ... er ... well, run into a bit of resistance from officials inside the EU commission. Fancy that!
But now things were going to be diffrent. El Barroso's new commission was "signed up to the campaign". Enter stage German. "Zee EU's regulatory burden vill go down, not up. If it doesn't, vee vill block zee regulations." Exit stage German ... the man's a Dutchman, after all.
Und just to prove zat it vill verk - sorry, the German left already ... will work, this brand new, improved, washes whiter initiative is backed by ministers from Ireland and the Netherlands, to say nothing of Luxembourg, UK, Austria and Finland, the holders of the next four successive EU presidencies.
That proves it: Member States Mean Business.
Mr Zalm has no doubts about this. There is now "a cultural shift" at the EU commission. They all love deregulation now... yes, yes, they absolutely love it. In the past, they loved regulation. Deregulation was an attack on the commission; it was ... how you say? ... a "very negative attitude." Nasty things these "negative attitudes".
But that was when the commission thought deregulation was turning two regulations into one beautiful regulation. (No, I did not invent this ... this is what the man actually said.) That was "better regulation". But now they know different ... they have been reprogrammed.
Where they counted pages, we will count the cost, says Zalm, who wants the EU to copy his country and cut the regulatory burden by 25 percent. Oh, goody, that means only €750 billion instead of €1 trillion a year.
And how is this miracle going to happen? Please, please don't laugh. You'll hurt their feelings. El Barroso is preparing a paper "outlining a common methodology for assessing the cost of EU regulation, present and future." Oh, all right, do laugh then!
Says the FT, "the initiative is an important test for the European Commission, whose top officials have traditionally been attracted to the task of legislating and policy-making, not to the grind of cutting red tape."
That it might be, but nothing like the test of our credulity. Pigs with afterburners might be more plausible.