Keynote speech at virtual vonference on Better Regulation organised by the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. [CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY]
Thank you Minister Altmaier, and my sincere thanks also for inviting me to address this conference today.
None of you need me to tell you that having an efficient and effective regulatory system is a key ingredient in the recipe for any democratic society.
It is vital for open and transparent EU decision-making, enabling evidence-based legislation that brings benefits to Europeans and European businesses at minimum regulatory cost.
This has been underlined by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with the need to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burden more important than ever as we seek to kick-start Europe’s economy.
So we need to do better, even though our regulatory policy is one of the best in the world – for example, in 2018, the OECD analysed its members' better regulation frameworks, and scored the EU among the best in all three categories: stakeholder engagement, impact assessment and ex-post evaluations.
We are especially proud of our Regulatory Scrutiny Board. It functions on the basis of EU best practice, and – by mandate and in practice – is independent. The relatively high number of negative opinions it issues on Commission proposals attests to this; a trend accelerated by the increased pace of our work during the pandemic.
Over the years, the Commission has reinforced the RSB’s powers and reiterated its independence, and it is the only scrutiniser in Europe which has a near-veto power.
The RSB works very well in the EU context. The Board has an excellent reputation and I value and totally respect its work. Its mandate has recently been updated for the Board to be at its best in this legislative period.
There is still plenty to do elsewhere, of course, even in areas which have been received positively. In the OECD report, for example, the Commission’s stakeholder engagement system fared especially well, ranking first. And our own stocktaking exercise, carried out last year, showed wide-spread appreciation for our approach amongst stakeholders.
However, we should find ways to simplify the consultation process – especially important in the current climate. We have already sought to address this by being more targeted and, where possible, extending consultation deadlines in response to stakeholder requests.
In addition, we should consolidate the process into less steps to better prevent consultation fatigue. We should also keep respondents better informed about the outcome of the consultation and the follow-up steps.
At EU level, we should also strengthen our regulatory tools such as impact assessments and evaluations. I would ask the European Parliament and Council to be creative when interpreting the term ‘impact assessment’ in our Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Lawmaking. Doing Commission-style impact assessments of major amendments during the negotiations might appear not to be feasible. But one or two pages giving an idea of the justification and cost implications would be very valuable in most cases.
The far-reaching green and digital ambitions of the von der Leyen Commission, meanwhile, together with its focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will be more prominent in the Commission’s impact assessments.
At the same time, however, it is vital we keep moving forward in order to deliver on the ambitious agenda presented in the Commission Work Programme 2021.
An integral part of that is reducing the burdens of EU law for Europeans and European businesses. This is not an easy undertaking given the lengthy process a Commission proposal undergoes before it reaches those actually affected by it – the adoption process at European level is followed by national implementation, application and enforcement.
The one-in, one-out approach is essential in this context, as it can help us achieve our goal of producing high-quality EU legislation which reaches its objectives at minimum cost without lowering our social and ecological standards – ensuring that those on the ground can really feel the benefits.
In order to make one-in, one-out work at EU level, we cannot enforce it in a mechanical way. There needs to be close cooperation between the EU Institutions and the Member States, particularly when it comes to digitalisation and innovation.
We recognise that SMEs tend to be more affected by legislative burdens than larger companies, hence our ‘think small first’ approach. To this end, the new EU SME envoy will have a role in filtering legislation to make sure it does not create disproportionate burdens for SMEs.
And we want SMEs and their network to have a greater role in our consultations. First, by indicating if a proposal is potentially problematic for them. Second, by participating in targeted public consultations, such as SME panels. Finally, once a proposal has been adopted by the Commission, SMEs would still have four weeks to provide input based on the text to be discussed by the co-legislators.
Burden reduction was already included in the SME strategy we published earlier this year, while the Single Customs Window proposal also strives to make things easier.
The new Fit for Future Platform, the successor to the REFIT Platform, will play a key role in our burden-reducing efforts. It will bring together Member States’ national, regional and local authorities and other key stakeholders to help identify and reduce burdens at all levels.
Its working methods will be more efficient than its predecessor through annual work programmes and better outreach to the public. Its work will also support our efforts on one-in, one-out. I look forward to chairing the first meeting later this month.
In the meantime, we have already put in motion work to increase our use of strategic foresight in policymaking, as laid out in our first annual Strategic Foresight Report published in September.
Strategic foresight – the art of developing intelligence about the future to inform the actions of today – focuses minds on the next generation, not the next election. It is about anticipating, exploring and acting.
It is imperative that we now start to integrate foresight elements into our planning and our better regulation agenda.
To conclude, we need to work closely together at all levels to craft simple, targeted and easy-to-implement law that cuts red tape. The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced our conviction that legislation is only necessary when it brings clear benefits to Europeans; and that it should do so at minimum cost. That must be our ultimate goal.