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Another bonfire

Posted by Helen Monday, April 25, 2005

The EU is in danger of breaking its own environmental rules. It is about to have another bonfire, though not of vanities but of regulations. I do hope that this bonfire will be done in environmentally friendly, fully EU-guaranteed incinerator. Otherwise Herr Günter Verheugen, for he it is responsible for the projected bonfire, will get his knuckles rapped by the fragrant Margot’s successor as Environment Commissar.

According to the Financial Times, always ready to see the best of every Commission proposal:

“Mr Verheugen has ordered a bonfire of legislation that was proposed under the former administration of Romano Prodi, in one of the most thorough clean-outs of red tape ever conducted by the European Commission.”

And what is that going to consist of?

“His team is screening more than 300 laws in the legislative pipeline, and expects a battle with other departments as it seeks to withdraw proposals, many in the environmental or consumer field. “It could get messy,” said one official.“But we want to make a real impact; we are hoping to identify at least 50 pieces of legislation to be scrapped.””

How exciting. Of course, one must recall that when the Commission and its minions say that they will scrap legislation, they mean no such thing. What they do mean is that they will consolidate.

Thus, instead of one directive and 12 regulations we shall have two directives and 3 regulations. That sounds like we have less legislation. In fact, there will probably be more of it, as with each consolidation extra articles will be added. But there will be fewer items and the bonfire will be deemed to have been successful.

Calculating EU legislation is extremely difficult, as there are no separate laws. The framework directives breed other directives and regulations, which multiply without ever becoming new legislation. That is why the most accurate calculation is based on the number of pages.

If British (and American or Australian) legislation can be said to start with the particular, Continental legislation moves in the opposite direction. It starts with the general – in the case of the EU, with agreements in treaties – and moves further and further towards the particular, at which, very late point, British MPs usually realize there is a problem.

The problem, however, is at an earlier stage, routinely and repeatedly ignored by our so-called legislators, despite having been caught out on many occasions over the years.

But suppose, some of that bonfire does actually achieve something. Do we know which particular regulations will be scrapped, changed or consolidated? Are these decisions taken by Verheugen and his minions, and, possibly disputed by the egregious Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a substitute for open, democratic, accountable legislation?

Meanwhile, news comes from France that former Arcelor steel boss and French finance minister, Francis Mer wants to team up with textile maker and brother of president-in-waiting, Guillaume Sarkozy, to stand for election at the head of the Mouvement des Enterprises de France (Medef).

The idea is that two forceful and shrewd operators will finally be able to get the attractiveness of entrepreneurial culture across to French politicians and the French public.

They are being challenged by other industrial leaders for the position, but all have the same aim.
But as yesterday’s Business newspaper pointed out:

“… Medef is preoccupied with national insurance and labour issues, when it should be lobbying for growth.

It's not a bad assessment of the symptoms, but his rivals appear to understand Medef's problem better. Until it can convince voters that creating wealth is the job of entrepreneurs rather than government or unions, Medef will remain a voice in the wilderness.”

The notion that creating wealth is the job of entrepreneurs is, let’s face it, an alien concept in the whole of the European Union, whether we talk of the Lisbon Agenda or Verheugen’s bonfire.