TIEing up the loose ends: making Better Regulation work in practice

29 June 2006

Pavel Telička, EPC Senior Adviser and chair of the Better Regulation Task Force, began by summing up the recommendations contained in the EPC’s Working Paper on Making Europe work: improving the transposition, implementation and enforcement of EU legislation.

He acknowledged that over recent years, the European Commission and some Member States had made “sizeable efforts” to improve the implementation of EU legislation. However, the paper, based on a year’s work by a wide variety of stakeholders in the EPC’s Better Regulation Task Force, argues that the transposition, implementation and enforcement (TIE) is hampered by multi-layered governance structures, a diversity of institutional settings, a variety of cultural and socio-economic contexts and language difficulties, compounded by the unique nature of the Commission and a disconnection between the national and supranational levels.

Mr Telička explained that the paper makes a series of detailed recommendations based on five key principles: to establish high-level accountability and public political commitment to improving procedures; introduce mandatory guidelines at the national and supranational level; draw up a clear definition of each institution’s role in the process; introduce better coordination and information exchange at European and national levels; and provide training and adequate resources.

Better regulation - a high priority

Alexander Italianer, Deputy Secretary-General of the European Commission, stressed that Better Regulation was a high priority for the Commission, but said it was “like a chess game”, covering many fields. He commented wryly that it was often easier to concentrate on new legislation than to change existing laws.

Better Regulation is not only a matter for the Commission, but also for other EU institutions and Member States and regional authorities as well. One priority is to help individual Member States to reduce the administrative burden of TIE and cut costs.

Mr Italianer said the Commission agreed with many of the recommendation in the EPC's Working Paper. It was currently dealing with thousands of infringement cases each year, and wanted to concentrate on 'horizontal', rather than individual, infringements to speed up the process.

He stressed that “prevention is as important as cure”, and said that once new legislation is passed, Commission officials work with Member States to prepare national legislation in order to avoid future infringements.

A barrier-free transatlantic market

Martin Broughton, European Co-Chair of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and Chairman of British Airways, presented the business perspective on TIE.

He said TABD wanted a “barrier-free transatlantic market”, as reducing barriers between the EU and US had already improved European GDP by 3%. Industry stakeholders supported the paper's recommendations and wanted to improve the enforcement of existing legislation.

Better regulation is central to realise the Lisbon Agenda goals and the role of business is to create jobs and generate wealth. Governments should facilitate this by limiting the constraints on business to the “minimum needed to take into account environmental and social concerns”.

Mr Broughton argued that one problem in applying EU legislation at national level was that governments added additional requirements. To avoid this, he said, regulators must ensure that legislation is consistent across all the Member States to establish a truly single European market.

The focus on Better Regulation is being matched by similar initiatives in the US, and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic need to work together and have an “early warning system” to prevent potential conflicts.

Lorenzo Allio, EPC Policy Analyst and co-author (with Junior Analyst Marie-Hélène Fandel) of the Working Paper, said the reopening of the inter-institutional Agreement on better lawmaking was a political signal that the Commission and the European Parliament were now more responsive to Better Regulation and wanted to make it “more punchy and more binding”. He also stressed the importance of clear guidelines for assessing the impact of legislation.

However, he insisted that the argument of “scarce resources” should not let the Commission off the hook when it came to explaining what progress was being made on its Better Regulation agenda to the public and stakeholders, as it was extremely important to keep stakeholders fully informed.

TIE a key issue

Arlene McCarthy, MEP and Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee, pointed out that the committee had adopted a report on Better Regulation in the Internal Market in May. The Commission, Council of Ministers and Parliament now had a set of core principles for implementing it: subsidiarity, proportionality, accountability, consistency and transparency.

She stressed the importance of the inter-institutional group coming up with practical measures that all Member States could agree on, such as sharing best practices and introducing benchmarking. In addition, a Better Regulation task force between the EU institutions was needed, plus a guide on the process and ex-post impact assessments/evaluations to scrutinise whether legislation had achieved its objectives.

Ms McCarthy called for a uniform approach across different Commission departments to assess procedures, particularly because of the impact of legislation on business and the contribution it should make to the Lisbon Agenda. She also agreed that consultation was important, stressing that it must gather views from across the spectrum, including small businesses, not just from “well-organised lobby groups”.

“TIE is the key issue,” she insisted. The Commission had made a good start, and the European Parliament and the various parliamentary committees were beginning to take it seriously, so now the Council needed to get involved.

Enforcing the regulations

Charlie McCreevy, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, echoed the paper’s warning that “even regulation of the highest quality is useless unless it is properly enforced”.

He praised the paper for presenting “constructive ideas and proposals on how we can promote the single market on the ground”. He said the EPC had raised an important issue, adding: “The task of transposing, implementing and enforcing of EU law certainly deserves more attention than it gets.”

The Commissioner said it was time to turn the commitments on better regulation into “tangible deliveries”, to make European rules work better in practice and achieve a Europe of results’.

Closer cooperation and partnership with Member States is needed to ensure the rules are applied properly. As the EU is not a federal organisation, it is up to Member States to ensure they are enforced. “Cooperation and collaboration are key. The internal market cannot function well unless the Member States and the Commission work together,” he said.

He also agreed with the paper's recommendation that a clearer definition of roles and responsibilities is needed. Where Member States do not fulfil their obligations, the Commission, “as guardian of the Treaties”, will “not hesitate” to act with determination.

Mr McCreevy stressed that laws had to be applied consistently “in all corners of Europe” for the internal market to function properly, and welcomed the suggestion that administrators and judges should receive training in EU law. He also called on Member States to take a “joined-up approach” to the issue, and said the Commission was developing an online information system to help this process.

The Commissioner said the EPC’s paper was right to point out that improvements are needed in the way complaints and infringement procedures are handled. However, he added that as resources were limited, the Commission was also developing alternative systems like SOLVIT to deal with small infringements to allow it to concentrate on more important cases.

The Commissioner finished by stressing that citizens and companies were entitled to expect their governments to apply internal market rules properly.