The EU is cutting red tape – a victory for the Lib Dems

EU Flag and ScissorsOn Wednesday the European Commission unveiled a major set of proposals that will significantly cut unnecessary red tape, especially for small businesses, following a sweeping review of all EU legislation. Perhaps the most eye-catching of these was the decision to withdraw proposed health and safety rules that would have banned hairdressers from wearing jewellery and high heels at work. Unsurprisingly, this did not garner anywhere near as much coverage in the tabloid press as when it was first proposed.

Far more important though are the concerted efforts to simplify or repeal overly burdensome and unnecessary EU rules across the board. Commission President Barroso’s recent assertion that the EU needs to be “big on the big things and smaller on the small things” was more than just empty words. As we near the European elections, the Commission is beginning to wake up to the growing tide of euroscepticism and the widely held belief that EU regulation is overly meddlesome.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to claim that this is an entirely new endeavour. Over the past eight years, the EU has repealed over 5,590 different legal acts, which translates into a cut of 26% in red tape for businesses. Two years ago, Lib Dem MEPs and ministers were instrumental in delivering an exemption for small businesses from complex EU accounting rules, leading to savings of around £400 million a year. And through our “Think Small First” campaign, we have worked closely with smaller firms to ensure they have a strong voice in Brussels when legislation is made.

Of course, this approach is anathema for many Conservatives, who think we should try and claw back powers and carve out a special deal for the UK. They don’t want to go through the long, arduous process of simplifying EU legislation that protects workers or the environment. They want to get rid of it altogether. But this approach is a non-starter in terms of gaining the agreement of all 27 other member states.

The choice for the UK is either to stay in the club and follow the same rules as everyone else, or leave and take a chance as a low-wage, deregulated economy excluded from the market of 500 million people on its doorstep.

Yesterday’s proposals show that the Liberal Democrats’ emphasis on EU-wide reform is the right approach to take. By working together with our European partners, we can deliver an EU that is more competitive, more open and less bureaucratic.

Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting to defend millions of jobs by making sure we remain part of the EU. By slashing red tape and opening up new opportunities for small businesses to trade abroad, we can help to create millions more.

* Fiona Hall is Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Delegation in the European Parliament and MEP for the North East of England.

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13 Comments

  • Fine, but let’s not fall for the whole ‘EU red tape’ story. The British government is the one that comes up with the stupid petty regulations in our society and if the British government has a problem with red tape it needs to sort itself out. Even where the rules come from the EU originally, it’s often the officiousness of the UK authorities that turns something that started sensible into pointless overregulation.

  • Richard Dean 4th Oct '13 - 1:03pm

    What was the legal/treaty basis for the rule about hairdressers? It seems to me that hairdressers in, say, Abruzzo, Italy, or Corinth, Greece, do not compete in any meaningful way with hairdressers in, say, Kendal, UK.

  • What about an EU that is small on the big things (i.e. rampaging ambition to take over new areas of policy e.g. fiscal policy) and smaller on the small things?

    If it could concentrate on doing less, better, and didn’t have a constant tendency towards self-aggrandisement it would be a much improved organisation.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Oct '13 - 2:07pm

    @chris: Absolutely, and also the UK government cannot be relied on to oppose silly regulations in the Council. For example, it did not vote against the proposal to ban refillable oil jugs/jars in restaurants. Also there is a tendency among the media and politicians to turn every bad proposed law coming from the EU into an argument against the EU itself, in a way that they would not do with bad proposals from the UK government.

    However, Lib Dem policy on the EU has two separate parts, and these should not be conflated. They are (i) whether the UK should be part of the EU, and (ii) what Lib Dems do specifically to influence EU policy. I get “The EU is cutting red tape”, but it is not clear from this article how this is specifically “a victory for the Lib Dems”. From our MEPs I would like to see more on how they have voted on specific EU legislative proposals, and contrasting this with what the other parties have done. As in “Lib Dem MEPs voted for/against X, which would be good/bad for the widget industry in the EU because … while Tory/Labour MEPs did the opposite” If we are going to have any chance in the European Parliamentary election, we need to give people a reason to vote for a Lib Dem MEP as opposed to a Labour, Tory, UKIP or Green MEP. This means talking about how Lib Dem MEPs, specifically, have improved EU law and made it more liberal. Less selling the EU to the country, more representing their constituents in the EU Parliament.

  • @Alex Macfie
    Thanks for the response. I hope very much that the Libdems will not fall into the tory/ukip trap of a pretend consensus for some sort of dismantling of the EU under a false banner of reform. I’m not a Libdem member, but one of the most important reasons why I have been a Libdem voter for many years is that the Libdems are the only party in Britain who have treated a united Europe as something desirable. I’m a European and proud of it and the Libdems are the only choice on offer for my vote.

  • jedibeeftrix 4th Oct '13 - 6:32pm

    “The choice for the UK is either to stay in the club and follow the same rules as everyone else, or leave and take a chance as a low-wage, deregulated economy excluded from the market of 500 million people on its doorstep.”

    And when those same rules, guided by the imperative of a eurozone survival, dictate a degree of fiscal and political union that makes the EU a federal entity in all but name…?

    No thanks, but before we leave we ought to see if we can get an exemption from ever-deeper-federalism, not least so that we can tuen around to other eu nations and say; “look here, this is an option for you too!”

  • I’m not convinced the EU deserves praise for cutting regulations and red tape that it introduced. The first example given: “the decision to withdraw proposed health and safety rules that would have banned hairdressers from wearing jewellery and high heels at work”, made my jaw drop.

    Why did these health and safety rules get proposed in the first place? Why on earth is it praiseworthy not to do something stupid that you had just been about to do? Have the people who proposed those rules been sacked or demoted? I thought not.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Oct '13 - 12:53am

    @Julian: It is the normal process of revising laws and proposed laws. All legislative proposals from any government goes through stages where they are revised, and parts that are shown not to be very sensible are changed so that they become more sensible. In this respect there is nothing special about EU lawmaking. However, parts of the UK media have a habit on seizing on early drafts of EU legislative proposals (or even ideas that have been floated by EU politician or bureaucrat and have precisely zero chance of becoming law) and saying “The EU is going to do this, therefore we have to leave the EU”. Imagine if the UK legislative process were discussed like this. The tabloids would every other day be calling for the dismantling of the UK state on the basis of a silly proposal from some obscure Whitehall department, which of course they are saying is certain to become part of UK law. Perhaps the EU does not deserve praise for revising laws to iron out as part of the normal legislative process, but nor does it deserve to be pilloried over an early draft of a law and then ignored when that law is revised (as it always would have been).
    And it’s the same with European elections. “In” or “Out” is actually a domestic issue: MEPs do not decide this, they legislate for the EU as a whole. If UK national elections were fought like European elections, then they would focus entirely on whether you were “pro-UK” or “anti-UK”, with anyone who was “pro-UK” assumed to be uncritical supporters of everything that the government of the day and the Whitehall bureaucrats did; there would be no discussions of actual policy. We don’t fight UK elections this way, so EU elections shouldn’t be fought this way either.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Oct '13 - 1:05am

    If every civil servant who wrote proposed legislation that was later be shown to be unworkable was sacked or demoted over it, there would be rather a lot of civil servants in every country on the dole. Just as every computer program start off with bugs, so does every proposed law. The legislative revision process is there to ensure that it ends up with as few bugs as possible.

  • @Julian

    The unions (including in Britain, as far as I know) had called for a law which would mean that hairdressers, who stand up to work, could not be obliged to wear high heels, because a lot of standing up in high heels can cause all sorts of problems, particularly to the persons’ back. Not stupid at all, although there may be scope for a debate on whether it’s really needed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Oct '13 - 1:13am

    Ah, the Daily Mail, a paper which is stuffed full of “why-oh-why?” articles where the answer is “because you’d be the first to moan about the taxes it would cost to pay for it” or “It’s a natural consequence of the policy of past Tory governments which you supported” or “Because you’d all it red tape”. I suspect if the Daily Mail managed to find a few cases of people being injured by hairdressers toppling over onto them due to silly shoes, they’d be saying “there ought to be a law against it”, especially if it could find a way to link this in with an attack on us or the Labour Party.

    It clearly makes sense in a world where business is globalised to have international agreement on health and safety issues. Otherwise, countries which take these things seriously get outcompeted by countries which don’t, and there is a race to the bottom. Global big money doesn’t like this sort of agreement, because it wants to play one country off against another, moving to whichever country cares the least about its workers and people and more about the money made by the big business owners. It’s this which is behind the rise in anti-EU feeling here, and the rise in the UKIP poll share that comes from this – the big business propaganda sheets aka the right-wing press ramp up anti-EU feeling by playing up and misrepresenting issues like this.

    Perhaps the suggestion here goes beyond what is sensible, but as Alex Macfie suggests, it’s a proposal, that’s all. I suggest we stop using pejorative right-wing phrases like “red tape” for this sort of thing, and just discuss them sensibly.

  • Stephen Bolter 21st Mar '16 - 4:14pm

    I would have supported a reguation to prevent employers from REQUIRING employees to wear high heel shoes for long periods.

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