Thursday, March 17, 2005

A parallel universe

Following on from our story earlier today on the commission’s latest “deregulation” initiative, we note that the Telegraph has also done the story, another in today’s edition under the Ambrose Evans-Pritchard by-line

The story also gets editorial treatment in the City Comment section and we wonder if the headline writers were aware of the irony implicit in the words.

Ambrose's piece gets the headline, "EU orders 'bonfire of the diktats'" and the City Comment goes under: "Breath of fresh air is just what Brussels needs to whip up the diktats bonfire".

Ignoring the fact that turning EU diktats into a "bonfire" would probably breach every environmental directive in the book – and in any event, surely the emphasis sould be on recycling? - the idea that any "fresh air" can emanate from that foetid hothouse of the commission is frankly laughable.

Quite how forlorn that expectation might be is writ large in the commission's press release, introducing the "new initiative". This starts off by claiming:

Over the past few years, EU institutions have put increasing emphasis on streamlining the EU’s regulatory environment to increase its effectiveness. A range of initiatives have been launched to codify, consolidate and simplify existing legislation and better evaluate the likely economic, social and environmental impacts of new regulatory proposals.
This is, incidentally, on the same day that Giovanni Bisignani, the head of the International Air Transport Association, said Wednesday that EU rules and inefficiencies have an annual cost to European airlines of €5.9 billion more than enough to return airlines to profitability. And not least of that in the recently introduced denied boarding regulation which Bisignani estimates will cost €600 million a year.

The give away is the next statement in the press release, framing this particular initiative as a means of "reinforcing" previous initiatives. In that nothing plus nothing equals nothing, "reinforcing" nothing still gives nothing.

What the commission does do is reinforce precisely that impression. For those who look for evidence that regulations are going to be abolished will look in vain.

All they will get is "two key action lines" which will "further promote better regulation tools, notably impact assessments and simplification", encourage "full commitment from Member States to better regulation at national level" and – wait for it – "reinforce the constructive dialogue between all regulators at EU and national levels and with stakeholders."

That, dear readers, is supposed "to make life easier for businesses and in particular for SMEs".

Frankly, you just know that anything which sets at its objective "to reinforce the constructive dialogue between all regulators… and with stakeholders" simply isn't going anywhere.

This is all taken from the infamous COM final which drips with such drivel. For instance, the commission "intends to explore ways for an earlier and more strategic use of Roadmaps in the planning and programming of commission initiatives…" and to "action plans, which allow more flexibility, coherence and continuity in our efforts towards simplification".

But the clincher, for a system that has brought us the physical agents directive, the working time directive for lorry drivers, the "Part P" regulations, and a mountain of environmental legislation, including the framework waste directive – which has given us the explosion of fly-tipping – is the claim that "the EU has achieved much in a relatively short period of time…".

"Achieved what?", one is tempted to scream. What precisely has the EU achieved by way of deregulation in the last three years when this supposed deregulation started?

Ah, comes the soothing reply, we have decided to set up "a group of high-level national regulatory experts", to create "better regulation websites to allow input from stakeholders".

Then we come to the cream on the cake: we will "improve the intrinsic quality of the impact assessment of EU legislation by ensuring on a case-by-case basis the ex ante validation of external scientific experts of the methodology used for certain impact assessments", says the commission.

"But are you going to cut any regulations?", you wail. Don’t be silly, is the response. We are launching "a broad strategy to improve the regulatory environment and thus provide a more effective, efficient and transparent regulatory system for the benefit of citizens and reinforce competitiveness, growth and sustainable development".

Yet, "welcome to planet Earth at last", says the Telegraph, in its comment on the initiative. If this is planet Earth, methinks it has to be in a parallel universe.

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