EU level: Social partner views on the 'better regulation' package

Social partners have given their reactions to the Better Regulation Agenda, adopted by the European Commission as a way of boosting openness in the EU decision-making process. It also aims to improve the quality of new laws through better impact assessments of draft legislation and amendments, and to promote a consistent review of existing EU legislation. 

Background

The agenda was adopted by the Commission on 19 May 2015 following a commitment to better regulation made by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The Commission will now enter negotiations with the European Parliament and European Council over a new Interinstitutional Agreement (IIA) on Better Regulation, aiming for an agreement before the end of 2015.

The main elements of the agenda are more transparency and consultation, a consistent review of existing legislation and better impact assessments and quality control.

  • The Commission will set up a web portal where initiatives and consultations can be tracked. Stakeholders will also be able to comment on initiatives. After the Commission has adopted a proposal, any citizen or stakeholder will have eight weeks to provide comments or suggestions, which will feed into the legislative debate.
  • The Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) will be strengthened and will also quantify the costs and benefits of actions wherever possible. REFIT will now become a fundamental part of the Commission's Annual Work Programme and of the Commission's political dialogue with the other institutions. The Commission will establish a permanent platform for dialogue with stakeholders and Member States on how to improve EU laws in the context of REFIT, bringing together high-level experts from business, civil society, social partners, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and Member States.
  • The Commission's Impact Assessment Board, operating since 2006, will be transformed into an independent Regulatory Scrutiny Board. The board will have an expanded role in checking the quality of impact assessments of new proposals as well as fitness checks and evaluations of existing legislation.

Social partner views

Employers

In general, employers welcome proposals to improve competitiveness and help businesses, while trade unions fear that the needs of business are being put before those of workers.

The employers’ EU-level organisation, BusinessEurope, is strongly in favour of the EU improving its competitiveness and enhancing growth and investment, and sees better regulation as a key way of doing this. It sets out its priorities as:

  • a focus on competitiveness and growth;
  • reducing burdens and gold-plating in transposing EU legislation into national law;
  • focusing on proportionality, finding more proportionate and effective solutions;
  • openness and transparency at all stages of the policymaking process;
  • using impact assessments, consultation, and evaluation and targets.

BusinessEurope issued a press release welcoming the better regulation strategy. In it Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope, said:

Better regulation is essential to improve competitiveness, growth and employment. […] We welcome many of the initiatives set out in the new strategy, including better impact assessments throughout the legislative process, and more independent quality advice to improve EU laws.

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), has not reacted directly to the package but it has said that better regulation and simplification has, for many years, been one of the main concerns of SMEs. It also notes that administration and compliance costs take up a larger proportion of SMEs' expenditure than they do for larger enterprises.

The European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP), also committed to support the EU better regulation. Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary said:

The European Commission made today a step in the right direction to increase the quality of EU legislation, have smarter regulation and strengthen the ownership of the European project by EU citizens.

However, CEEP noted that the EU social partners ought to be more closely involved in EU policymaking. It also stated that it is important that more systematic monitoring and evaluation of policies do not question fundamental elements of existing and long-negotiated EU legislation.

Trade unions

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has more mixed views on the package. In a declaration on Better Regulation, adopted at the ETUC Executive Committee in June 2015, the confederation said it supports better regulation but criticises the package, stating that it:

puts the supposed needs of business above all others; turns minimum standards into maximum standards; puts a value on impact assessments that they do not have; brings a longer, costlier and more bureaucratic procedure that will risk delaying social progress; makes it more difficult for elected EU institutions to change European Commission proposals and could undermine the principle that EU law applies equally to all. In short, it adds red tape, slows down progressive change and de-democratises Europe.

ETUC also calls the package a ‘power-grab’ by the Commission. It is concerned that the Commission wants social partner agreements intended to be directives to first undergo impact assessments. These would focus in particular on the representativeness of the signatories, the legality of the agreement and a subsidiary and proportionality check. It also disagrees with the suggestion that the Commission should have the right to decide whether or not to present a social partner agreement to the Council even if the signatories request it.

ETUC states that legislation should have a societal benefit, and that the needs of businesses do not come above those of workers. It is also concerned that, by asking Member States not to go beyond what is ‘necessary’ when implementing EU legislation, ‘minimum standards’ are being turned into ‘maximum standards’. ETUC is also concerned about the fact that the European Parliament and Council will be asked to carry out an impact assessment if they significantly change Commission proposals. Its view is that unelected experts will be given a major role in EU law-making.

Conclusions

The aims of better regulation are clear: providing a more open way of formulating EU legislation and improving the quality of laws to boost efficiency and effectiveness. While this has been unreservedly welcomed by the business community, trade unions are fearful that it will harm social rights. It is true that the REFIT programme has not been without its controversies; in December 2014, the Commission announced that a draft maternity leave directive would be withdrawn if no progress was made in the next six months. Under REFIT, proposals can be withdrawn if they do not have the support of the legislator. To date, almost 400 proposals have been withdrawn under REFIT.

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