My war is on red tape and unnecessary legislation, and they are not solely generated by Brussels


Picture of Eva Kjer Hansen
Eva Kjer Hansen

Minister for Gender Equality and Nordic Cooperation, Denmark

The European Union’s policies have had a hugely positive effect on growth and innovation throughout Europe as the removal of trade barriers and the gradual harmonisation of laws has helped to create a level playing field for entrepreneurs. Yet with Europe facing new economic and social challenges, the crucial question is how we overcome these and deliver on our ambitious policy goals.

Part of the answer came recently from EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker when he said:  “I want a European Union that is bigger and more ambitious on big things, and smaller and more modest on small things”. This implies a greater focus on agendas that can deliver added-value, like growth and sustainability, as well as a determined effort to do away with superfluous EU legislation.

A good example of the latter was provided not long ago, when recipients of subsidies for organic farming were told by Brussels that they must put up posters on their land stating that they get EU financial support, with failure to do so resulting in a reduced subsidy. The aim was allegedly to increase public awareness of the benefits of EU financial aid, but surely this can be done in smarter ways than putting up signs in the middle of the countryside?

The recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy are another case in point. Over the course of three years, about 2,500 pages of legal acts, interpretation notes and so forth have been produced by EU officialdom, and it would be naive to suppose that this volume could be generated without a few slip-ups. And sure enough, even before the reforms could be implemented at national level, member government representatives had submitted 800 pages proposing adjustments and improvements.

But clearly not only the EU institutions are responsible for creating red tape. “Gold-plating”, when national authorities implement legislation that exceeds EU requirements, is far too common. This can impose increased costs, unnecessary regulatory burdens and competitive disadvantages. I myself have been doing my best to counteract this in the Danish Parliament, and will continue to do so as it is a high priority for the new Danish government.

Mindless gold-plating is also all too common elsewhere, so both EU member states and the European institutions need actively to combat it. That said, one of the more discouraging features of EU-level politics is the widespread reluctance of member governments to take responsibility for superfluous or counterproductive legislation. National authorities often shrug off their own responsibility by denouncing “yet another blunder by those bureaucrats in Brussels”. For their part, the EU institutions are wont to disclaim responsibility with the excuse: “the Council diluted our original proposal”.

The reluctance of decision-makers in the EU system to accept responsibility is dangerous. The result can be that obsolete and inappropriate legal acts remain in place, while much-needed new legislation stays in the pipeline. Remedying this is far from easy, but in the end it is all about having the courage to decide what works and what doesn’t, and in the latter case, doing something about it!

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