Better Regulation in cold storage

I have been a vocal supporter of this Commission’s Better Regulation agenda.

I have argued that Better Regulation is President Juncker’s greatest legacy for Europe. A shift away from political expediency to sound rule making is easy to preach but more challenging to enforce. President Juncker and First Vice-President Timmermans started off very well.

Better Regulation has provided for:

  • Political discontinuity
  • Considered proposals being developed in line with the support of excellent Better Regulation and the Toolkit.
  • Open law making

My own view, as a still card carrying members of the UK Labour Party, is that Better Regulation is a force for good. Nobody’s interests are served by bringing forward ill-thought out and rash proposals. It is not a political issues. Progressives and Greens have been pleasantly surprised to see proposals they did not support blocked because they fell foul of Better Regulation rules.

This Commission were even handed. Progressives concerns that Better Regulation would be used to stop environmental proposals has been shown to be unfounded.  The enforcers of Better Regulation required that proposals were considered and not pushed through quickly to answer the animal spirits calls of political interest.


Is Better Regulation in cold storage

As we get closer to the end of May 2018 cut off for major new legislative proposals, it seems as if “Better Regulation” has been put into cold storage.

First, too often, it seems Commissioners are agreeing political outcomes way in advance of  the Regulatory Scrutiny Board  meeting and giving their feedback.  Pre-cooking  political decisions and detail legislative texts before any feedback has been provided suggests to many the feedback loop is just an exercise to go through, and political decisions are taken despite any evidence that may come forward.

Second, in a least one case, the sense that some Commission Services were just going through the motions, seems justified by the time from the closure of the public consultation and the vote on the measure. In the case of formaldehyde use  as a feed additive, the public consultation ended on 19 December 2017 and DG SANTE  scheduled the vote on 20 December 2017.  The measure passed. There are other cases.

Some senior officials frankly  question what the Commission benefit there is from organizing an Impact Assessment. What, after all could they learn. Now, it is true that industry’s submissions are too often data poor and too polemical. But, it is not good to have a mindset that discounts a major part of the process that is designed to overview  “problem of knowledge.” It does not engineer confidence in the process.

Third,  political opportunism in the run up to the may cut off  is at odds with the letter and spirit of Better Regulation. The Better Regulation Guidelines and Toolbox should not be seen as a backdrop for statistical reviews of the public consultations. They call for a measured and thorough analysis of the policy options being faced and the most appropriate response. Instead, too often the surveys and feedback as just used as a means to run some poor polling. It seems there is a new set of “Guidelines in practice edition” that have new section on “push out a proposal to satisfy political animal spirits”.

The danger is that we are now moving backwards. Proposals will be tabled that treat the symptoms that are based on a poor diagnosis. This often leads to a course of treatment that does not help the patient . The policy or regulatory response is often harmful and sometimes fatal. A more holistic diagnosis is needed. Better Regulation offered this safety valve. I can only hope that this Commission’s greatest legacy is not sacrificed at the alter of political expediency.