M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 98

'Better Regulation': European Union Style

Elizabeth Golberg



The European Union is often criticised for producing too many – sometimes badly written - laws which interfere too much with the lives of citizens and business in areas better regulated at national or local level. Red tape and bureaucracy are seen as major failings of the EU. The European Commission, as the European Union executive, has responded to this criticism by giving priority to regulatory policy, termed ‘Better Regulation’. Using strategic planning, impact assessment, consultation and evaluation as its main tools, ‘Better Regulation’ aims to prepare and adapt EU policy and legislation in knowledge of its expected economic, environmental and social impacts, avoiding unnecessary burdens and red tape for citizens, businesses and public authorities. The assessment of regulation from the design phase to implementation, with public consultation throughout the process, has become systematic.

Despite these efforts, EU Member States, business and a broad section of the public continue to express dissatisfaction with the volume and quality of legislation. The Member States and business groups call for reduction targets and regulatory budgeting schemes to contain the volume (and hence the costs) of legislation. Most recently, for example, the coalition agreement which forms the policy platform of the German government has called for the European Union to launch a ‘one in/one out’ scheme of regulatory budgeting.

This raises questions about the European Commission’s regulatory policy approach. Is ‘Better Regulation’ effective? Is it relevant in the decision-making process? There are no straightforward answers to these questions and many ways to go about answering them. This paper attempts a response based on personal experience and available evidence. It outlines the factors that have shaped and driven regulatory policy over the past fifteen years. It describes the main features of the European Commission’s ‘Better Regulation’ system and looks at whether it is effective and relevant. The results of the analysis, including illustrations from three case studies on roaming surcharges, air quality legislation and climate change legislation, provide insight as to whether ‘Better Regulation’ has worked to improve policy outcomes and decision-making and whether commonly prescribed solutions to ‘over regulation’ (targets and quantitative offsetting schemes) are fit for purpose at EU level.

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