Commission details plans to cut red tape

The European Commission has detailed its plans to streamline its legislation. One of the main aims is to cut red tape, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. On 2 October 2013, the Commission issued a Communication on Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT), which spelled out areas where it felt it could reduce the regulatory burden. The current focus is on reviewing legislation covering consultation of workers and occupational health and safety legislation.

REFIT legislation review

The European Commission says it is determined to continue its efforts to streamline its legislation. On 2 October 2013 it issued its Communication (COM (2013) 685 (150KB PDF)) on the Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT): Results and Next Steps.

The Commission stressed that it had already made a concerted effort over the past few years to streamline legislation at EU level and reduce regulatory burdens on businesses. Since 2005 it has approved 660 initiatives to simplify, codify or recast legislation and more than 5,590 laws have been repealed.

When preparing legislation, the Commission assesses the possible impact, consults stakeholders and uses Smart Regulation. However, the Commission insists the momentum of regulatory reform needs to be kept up. It says:

Smart Regulation is a continuous process, not a one-off operation. Ensuring that EU legislation is ‘fit for purpose’ is essential for putting Europe back on track towards more growth and jobs.

REFIT was set up in December 2012 to review all EU legislation and ‘identify burdens, inconsistencies, gaps or ineffective measures’, and to make the necessary proposals to act on its findings.

The new Communication sets out the results of a screening published by the Commission in August 2013. It identifies where it believes action needs to be taken to achieve regulatory fitness and details its future plans.

Information and consultation

The Commission says it will investigate whether three directives that deal with the information and consultation of workers should be consolidated. They are:

  • Directive 2002/14/EC on the information and consultation of workers;
  • Directive 98/59/EC on collective redundancies;
  • Directive 2001/23/EC on transfers of undertakings.

The review will follow on from a fitness check (248KB PDF) carried out between 2010 and 2013 on these three directives (EU1308011I) and will be subject to the outcome of consultations with social partners.

Occupational health and safety

Occupational health and safety legislation will be a major focus over the coming years. The Commission states that the whole body of accumulated legislation and regulation in this field (Directive 89/391/EEC and its 23 related directives) is being reviewed. This process will include consultations with the social partners, including representatives of the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) community. Member States will also contribute, presenting their own implementation reports by December 2013. The Commission says the results will be available before the end of 2015.

No action

The Communication also identifies areas where the Commission will not issue proposals. This includes musculoskeletal disorders, computer screen displays, environmental tobacco smoke, and carcinogens and mutagens.

Quite controversially, it will also issue no proposals in the area of social dialogue or occupational safety and health for hairdressers. The Commission states that it will continue its assessment of the 2012 social partner agreement (4.6MB PDF) on the protection of occupational safety and health in the hairdressing sector. However, during the present mandate there will be no attempt to put any part of the agreement into EU law. This decision has angered the social partners in this sector (EU1310021I).

Future actions

Over the next two years, the Commission will evaluate the regulatory fitness of a number of directives, including its directive on temporary agency work.

The Commission will publish an annual ‘scoreboard’ to trace the legislative progress of all initiatives proposed under the REFIT initiative. It will also monitor the content of amendments decided at EU level, and whether changes have in fact simplified and reduced the regulatory burden once Member States have implemented them.

Social partner reactions

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has reacted angrily to the Commission’s Communication. It has condemned the plans as ‘deregulatory’ and an attack on workers’ rights. Bernadette Ségol, ETUC General Secretary, said:

The internal market is only acceptable if implemented with strong social rules. The Commission’s REFIT programme is blocking all progress in that direction. We need social rights across the board for all EU workers. The social dimension of the EU with its indicators is not meeting this objective.

For the employers, BusinessEurope has not issued any statements linked specifically to the Commission’s Communication. However, in a recent report its business taskforce has supported the removal of the burden of red tape from EU businesses and employers in the fields of employment and social policy.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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