How to regulate better in transport… in four ‘easy’ steps

September 8, 2015

Better regulation. Who would not want to win this most elusive of prizes for the art of governing? As far back as 2002 (at least, that’s as far as our memory goes back) the Commission has been saying it does. You can argue over whether it has been sincere. At least this Commission has been honest; Juncker himself settled the debate by declaring it’s about less regulation. How naive we were to think it was about quality not quantity.

But as the saying goes, attack is the best form of defense. So here comes our four-point proposal for how to regulate better in general, based on our ever-expanding experience in the field.

First: make sure you follow primary political legislation through with appropriate implementing law. How many times have we seen lofty objectives in primary law not being met because the industries concerned managed to bend implementing rules to their advantage? If this sounds vague, it is the reason that new diesel cars still pollute our air so badly even though the official standards say they should be completely clean by now. It is also the reason that you can’t trust the fuel economy sticker on new cars any more; in reality they now burn 40% more fuel than the sticker says, up from 10% a decade ago.

Second: make sure this implementing law is written by actual experts assisted by high-quality analytical input, instead of in rooms full of industry lobbyists united in so-called ‘editing boards’ or ‘expert groups’ that have no interest whatsoever in quick progress or high-quality law.

Third, make sure you shift from directives to regulations wherever possible. Directives require 28 national transpositions, implementations, and enforcements. A lot of work, and a lot of fragmentation of the internal market. EU transport fuels policy has three directives: the renewable energy directive, fuel quality directive, and a directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure. In total 28 x 3 = 84 different national laws, and it is fair to say the impact is lower than you would normally expect from 84 laws. I am sure many elements from these directives could be neatly transferred into one ‘clean fuels regulation’, which directly regulates energy suppliers in transport instead of regulating them indirectly through 28 capitals.

Fourth, make sure you combine, in one package, targets and the tools to reach them. Example: we will see a proposal for the so-called ‘effort sharing’ of climate and energy targets in the first half of 2016 – this is where Europe’s 40% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions will be sliced up between member states. This proposal should be accompanied by as many proposals as possible to actually help member states to achieve their targets. For example, through new efficiency standards for cars, vans and trucks as well as a road-pricing proposal.

Yes, all this takes new resources and competences at EU level. But you either want to win this most elusive prize for governing, or you don’t.

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