Check Against Delivery

Ladies and gentlemen. I thank Business Europe for the opportunity to be here today to talk about Better Regulation and its future or as you have put it “make it happen”.

People say that you should not look back unless it is to see how far you have come. I do hope that one of the outcomes of today is that we agree that it is not about making it happen, I actually think we already did, but that we should look together at how we can improve it.

Better regulation in the Commission has come a long way and I myself even sometimes forget just how far.

In 2001, the Commission published a White Paper on European Governance. I would like to read a few words from that paper:

[…] political leaders throughout Europe are facing a real paradox. On the one hand, Europeans want them to find solutions to the major problems confronting our societies. On the other hand, people increasingly distrust institutions and politics or are simply not interested in them.

Many people are losing confidence in a poorly understood and complex system to deliver the policies that they want.

Democratic institutions and the representatives of the people [...] must try to connect Europe with its citizens. This is the starting condition for more effective and relevant policies.

In short, the need for the Union to engage more fully with its citizens. To be more transparent. To justify why the Union needs to act. And to ensure its policies stand up to scrutiny.

When this Commission came to office in late 2014, despite all of the work that had been done, the problems identified in that White Paper were still with us and still demanding decisive action.

This is why we have invested significant resources to improve our better regulation agenda:

The “contribute to law-making” website was set up to allow stakeholders to participate fully in the Commission’s work throughout the policy cycle.

We are putting the draft legal text of delegated and implanting acts on-line for four weeks allowing stakeholders react to these drafts.

Public consultations now accompany major initiatives and the most important of these are available in all official EU languages.

We aim to evaluate legislation before making proposals to revise it. In just 3 years, this now happens in about 70% of the cases.

A new Regulatory Scrutiny Board was established including three members from outside the European institutions.

Experts on the REFIT Platform assist the Commission by providing solutions to simplify existing legislation.

Finally, we have tried to work better with the European Parliament and the Council via a new interinstitutional agreement on better law-making.

This has produced results, allow me to mention 2:

The focus on regulatory fitness has delivered more than 150 new initiatives focussed on simplifying existing legislation.

The REFIT Platform has adopted 89 opinions on problematic legislation.

A concrete example is VAT. The REFIT Platform issued 3 opinions based on stakeholders’ submissions.

They have directly fed the VAT action plan and a definitive system for cross-border trade that are expected to save an average of around EUR 1 billion annually to businesses.

There is also a specific SME scheme for supplies made by non-established businesses in a Member State, where we expect a reduction in VAT compliance costs related of around EUR 11.9 billion per year helping around 1.9 million businesses.

More importantly, others than just the Commission recognised progress!

Recently the OECD ranked the Commission as a top performer in terms of good regulatory practice and first in the area of stakeholder engagement.

Also, the European Court of Auditors concluded that we have a well-designed system of evaluations and fitness checks that is managed well and quality controlled.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be complacent. This is why we are now taking stock of how well the better regulation policy is working. We are assessing what we have put in place back in 2015 with a view to identify what should be improved or changed in the future.

We are consulting the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. The Regulatory Scrutiny Board and the REFIT Platform will provide their views as well. And I must thank Mr Hedström, one of its members, warmly for this. And of course, we are collecting the views and experiences of our own Commission staff.

We also launched a public consultation that finished in late October. We received more than 600 responses: some 75% from citizens and the rest from professionals including business, NGOs and public authorities. We also received more than 30 position papers, including one from Business Europe.

It is still too early to draw any firm conclusion but I am pleased to share with you some preliminary findings already now:

Interestingly, Italy is in the lead for making the biggest number of contributions, followed by Spain, France, Greece, Germany and Belgium.

Respondents recognise that we have made progress in consulting the public and on being more transparent.

But the consultation mechanisms allowing the public to have their voice heard in the decision-making process are not sufficiently well known. The same goes for the REFIT Platform.

Our efforts to make consultation questionnaires available in all languages are recognised but we need to ask clearer questions and give you better feedback on the way we use your responses.

We also have several issues to consider following the work of the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and Doing Less More Efficiently. Subsidiarity and Proportionality and the role of local and regional authorities are intrinsically bound up with our better regulation agenda.

In response to the Task Force, we intend to:

  • Present our assessments of subsidiarity and proportionality in a structured and visible way using the criteria from the subsidiarity protocol originally attached to the Amsterdam Treaty.

  • Target the views of local and regional authorities better in our consultation activities because we need their first-hand experience of implementing EU legislation.

  • Look more carefully at existing legislation from the viewpoint of subsidiarity, proportionality, and the role for local and regional authorities. This includes delegated and implementing acts.

  • Help national Parliaments execute their role more effectively by taking account of recess periods which fall in the 8-weeks they have available to prepare their opinions. But this must be agreed with the European Parliament and the Council.

We also hope that the European Parliament and the Council will follow our lead and assess subsidiarity and proportionality more systematically using the common assessment tool advocated by the Task Force. We all need to be on the same page if the subsidiarity and proportionality principles are to achieve their intended effect.

The Commission will take forward most of these actions in the first half of 2019 as part of the stocktaking of better regulation.

To finish where we started, I honestly believe that we have come a long way. I think the better regulation culture we set out to instil is making its way to become engrained in Commission staff. However, we are not there yet. We need to keep stressing and explain its importance and ensure its continuation, also under the next Commission.

Moreover, we know there are challenges. Let me just mention a few which might come up during today´s panel discussions:

We need to involve our citizens and public authorities more. We need their direct experience of implementing EU law and want them to accept, own and promote what the Union does. But we also know that many of them have limited resources to engage so we need to find ways to help them and to make them aware.

Support for evidence-based policy making cannot be taken for granted – look at the rise in populist rhetoric and policies all around us. We need to sell the benefits of better regulation even though we may not be 100% happy with every aspect or its outcome all the time.

How to apply better regulation when policy cycles are shortening and the time is limited to gather the relevant evidence (the area of migration is a good example)?

When and how do we intervene in fast moving sectors and markets such as the “gig economy” or anticipate disruptive technologies?

How do we assess impacts like innovation and designing policies to encourage it and not kill it?

How do we persuade the European Parliament and the Council to think more about Better Regulation, transparency of law making and the involvement of local and regional authorities in their work? The Commission can simply not do it on its own. We are only responsible for a part of the policymaking process.

I do hope that you can continue to work with us as you have done in the past. To find answers to some of these questions and to ensure that we improve the opportunities of European entrepreneurs and the life of our citizens.

Thank you.