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Thursday, February 24, 2011

" A step backwards for transparency"

The bulk of the cost of regulations in both the UK and Europe stem from the European Union, as we've showed in our extensive research on the subject. But this isn't even the end of the story.

Many key decisions on the actual substance of EU laws and regulations are being taken during an uber-opaque process called “Comitology”. As we've noted before, Comitology involves special committees consisting of Commission and national experts deciding on how EU legislation should be implemented - usually behind closed doors - after the proposal has been agreed by national governments and the European Parliament.

The Lisbon Treaty - the document, if you remember, that would lead to more transparency in Europe - is introducing new rules for the Comitology procedure, effective from 1 March 2011. The new rules were meant to improve and simplify the system, but are now universally acknowledged to have made the situation even worse (we explain why here).

Political consultant Daniel Gu├ęgen, who is one of the foremost experts on this topic, makes the slightly worrying observation that as a result of the reform, power in Brussels “is shifting from the political level to the bureaucratic level.”

Even the European Commission concurs. Mario-Paulo Tenreiro, who is responsible for institutional questions at the Secretariat General of the European Commission (exciting job), says:
I must admit that for the general public the new rules are a step back for transparency...Hundreds of thousands of decisions will be taken by these Treaty articles every year.
Apart from the complexity and opaqueness of the new rules, Euractiv reports that the reforms are also causing legal uncertainty. According to Wolfgang Heusel, director of the Academy of European Law (ERA), this means that "courts will have to have the last word" on how EU legislation should be implemented.

Does this matter? Absolutely! As much as 50% of the actual substance of all EU rules is decided during the comitology stage after the law has already been agreed by Ministers and MEPs, according to Dutch academic research. So we're not talking about fixing little details.

Are the Coalition and other governments around Europe keeping up? We fear not.

Ahead of the last General Election, Ken Clarke (then Shadow Business Minister, now Justice Secretary) managed to give an entire key note speech on regulation and how to improve it, without mentioning the EU once.

Il faut le faire
, as the French say.

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