When Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the European Commission, he promised to refocus attention on the bigger political issues and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business. First vice-president Frans Timmermans was appointed to the new role, with a particular focus on the principle of subsidiarity, in addition to overseeing institutional relations.
On 19 May 2015, the Commission published the ‘Better Regulation’ package, which contained new guidelines on various phases of the policy cycle, as well as documents setting out the rules for a series of entirely new consultation platforms and a new body in charge of checking impact assessments (‘Regulatory Scrutiny Board’). The package also includes revised impact assessment guidelines, the publication of the long-awaited guidelines on ex-post evaluation, an upgrade of the EU’s consultation practices, the review of the Inter-Institutional Agreement on Better Law-making.
The 2017 Commission work programme proposed 21 new initiatives, 18 REFIT initiatives and 19 withdrawals. The resulting balance is telling: 21 new to 19 withdrawals suggest that the new Commission is in favour of cutting regulations as opposed to creating new legislation.
The Commission claims that the cut in legislative proposals is partly in response to the results of the 2014 European elections, which apparently demonstrated that many citizens were concerned with what they perceived as undesirable levels of EU involvement in their daily lives. However, it is unclear where this perceived notion comes from. It is true that Europe is faced with an increasing level of Euroscepticism, but Eurobarometer surveys have demonstrated that 95% of citizens questioned consider that protecting the environment is important to them personally.
In concert with 50 other civil society organisations, we created the ‘Better Regulation Watchdog’ network in May 2015 with the goal of protecting citizens’, workers’, and consumers’ interests. Created in response to the Commission’s attempts to remove what it deems to be regulatory burdens under the ‘Better Regulation’ initiative, the network aims to ensure that the agenda does not weaken or undermine essential regulations and subordinate the public good to corporate interests.
Within the network, T&E is monitoring actions taken under the ‘Better Regulation’ agenda and identifying potential risks to existing and future environmental and public health standards as they relate to transport and energy. It will then inform civil society, media and decision makers of these risks by organising public debates, promoting research through joint campaigning and advocacy work. T&E is also closely following the recently proposed comitology reform, the Single Market Information Tool proposal, and transparency efforts such as the setting up of a joint transparency register including the Council and access to justice in environmental matters. Furthermore, we have increased our work with the European Ombudsman and access to documents requests.