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A question of blunt scissors

Posted by Richard Monday, July 04, 2005

Once again, according to The Financial Times, a government taking on the EU presidency is to reassert its ambition to cut EU red tape. This time it is the British government but it might just as well have been the Dutch, which also made "cutting red tape" the priority for its presidency.

But so twitchy are the "colleagues" that John Hutton, the cabinet office minister in charge of "deregulation", will use a speech to the Fabian society in London today to reassure them that the drive is not an attempt to foist an "alien eurosceptic agenda" on the rest of Europe.

"We must seek to persuade member states that better regulation in Europe does not mean cuts to health and safety in the workforce, nor does it mean [cutting] social standards," Mr Hutton says. "It means finding more efficient ways of delivering those standards so they do not place unnecessary burdens on business."

The diplomatic language deployed by Mr Hutton, says the FT, reflects the political hurdles that could thwart the UK's ambitious targets for changing the Brussels culture of regulation. The government this month argued it would be "very dangerous" to allow EU red tape to continue growing unchecked, saying business could be saved billions of euros in costs through reform.

The government also claims that it will use its EU presidency to attack the flow of new regulation and cut the stock of existing rules. It wants to strengthen the systems used to check whether the benefits of draft regulations outweigh their costs, using a new independent body to scrutinise proposals.

Needless to say, the presidency cannot actually achieve anything without the direct and active support of the commission, as only the commission can table proposals to remove any law from the acquis communautaire. And, to judge from past performance, whenever the commission is confronted with the idea of "cutting red tape", it invariably finds that its scissors to too blunt to achieve the task.

Still, it makes good copy for the media – and this blog, I suppose.