Thursday, 17 October 2013

EU Red Tape - We Make EU Rods For Our Own Backs

The UK government has been running its own Red Tape Challenge for some years and at last the EU is getting in on the act (though it thinks member states are in worse shape!). 

Listed below are some cuts to EU red tape that the UK government has suggested, according to the activity that is being restricted. See if you agree.

The first of two big concerns I have is how these suggestions appear to citizens and businesses in the EU's civil law countries (i.e. virtually all of them). Generally, they want the state to tell them how to act by setting out rules in a civil code. As a result, commerce in those countries tends to follow the law. But in common law countries (e.g. the US, UK and the Commonwealth), we consider ourselves free to act unless a law restricts that activity in some way - our laws tend to follow commerce. 

So what we see as red tape that doesn't properly reflect how we do business, a continental European might see as his only right to act in a certain way. 

This distinction is blurring a little, both as a result of the UK's membership of the EU and the need for businesses in the US and Commonwealth countries to do business in the EEA. But it remains an important driver of what each of us considers to be 'red tape', and it needs to be considered when making or supporting a cut. Where necessary, a compromise might be to remove some of the more restrictive detail but leave a general permission in place, with some means of passing more detailed rules later if necessary. 

The other major concern I have is that UK officials have a silly tendency to interpret an EU law literally (as we do with UK laws) rather than taking a 'purposive' view of their intended effect as the European Court of Justice does. So UK officials present laws to Parliament for approval which 'gold plate' EU requirements, rather than just deliver the spirit of what is intended. A European would say we are stupidly making a rod for our own backs, and I completely agree. This has to stop immediately.

Competitiveness of EU businesses:

  • Ensure the full implementation of the Services Directive across the EU
  • Ensure data protection rules don't place unreasonable costs on business
  • Refrain from bringing forward legislative proposals on shale gas 
  • Drop proposals to extend reporting requirements to non-listed companies.

Starting a company and employing people:

  • EU Governments should be allowed flexibility to decide:
  • When low-risk companies need to keep written health and safety risk assessments
  • How traineeships and work placements should be provided.
  • Micro-enterprises (employing fewer than 10 people and have an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total that does not exceed €2m) should be exempt from new employment laws unless they are sensible and proportionate.
  • Pregnant Workers proposals should be withdrawn 
  • Posting of Workers Directive should not introduce mandatory new complex rules on subcontracting  Existing legislation on Information and Consultation should not be extended to micros, and no new proposals or changes to existing legislation should be made
  • Working Time Directive should keep the opt out; give more flexibility on on-call time/compensatory rest; clarify there is no right to keep leave affected by sickness 
  • Agency Workers Directive should give greater flexibility for individual employers and workers to reach their own arrangements that suit local circumstances and give clarity to companies that they only need to keep limited records 
  • Acquired Rights Directive should allow an employer and employee more flexibility to change contracts following a transfer.

Expanding a business
  • Drop costly new proposals on environmental impact assessments 
  • Press for an urgent increase of the current public procurement thresholds
  • Exempt more SMEs from current rules on the sale of shares
  • Minimise new reporting requirements for emissions from fuels 
  • Drop plans for excessively strict rules on food labelling
  • Remove proposals to make charging for official controls on food mandatory 
  • Remove unnecessary rules on SMEs transporting small amounts of waste 
  • Withdraw proposals on access to justice in environmental matters 
  • Withdraw proposals on soil protection.

Trading across borders
  • Take action to create a fully functioning digital single market
  • Rapidly agree measures to cap card payment fees
  • Remove international regulatory barriers which inhibit trade
  • Reduce the burden of VAT returns, and stamp out refund delays
  • Drop proposals on origin marking for consumer goods.

  • Improve guidance on REACH to make it more SME-friendly
  • Rapidly agree the new proposed Regulation on clinical trials 
  • Improve access to flexible EU licensing for new medicines 
  • Introduce a risk-based process for the evaluation of plant protection products.

There is also a huge list of Directives in Annex 1 that businesses have said need attention.

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