Bonfire of red tape planned for Brussels

As many as 50 European laws could be scrapped by summer as Gunter Verheugen, EU enterprise commissioner, tries to signal a new era of lighter regulation from Brussels.

Mr Verheugen has ordered a bonfire of legislation that was proposed under the former administration of Romano Prodi, in one of the most thorough clean-outs of red tape ever conducted by the European Commission.

His team is screening more than 300 laws in the legislative pipeline, and expects a battle with other departments as it seeks to withdraw proposals, many in the environmental or consumer field. “It could get messy,” said one official. “But we want to make a real impact; we are hoping to identify at least 50 pieces of legislation to be scrapped.”

Mr Verheugen, who says the scrapping of red tape would be “his trademark”, announced last month: “Less bureaucracy means more jobs and growth.”

Officials working on the red-tape blitz argue that although impact assessments on new laws were conducted during the 1999-2004 Prodi administration, they were less rigorous than today.

“Also, our political priorities have changed, with a clear focus on competitiveness, jobs and growth,” said one.

A spokesman for Mr Verheugen said: “The Commission is dead serious about tackling red tape on all levels.

“We are ready to do our part. But at the same time it has to be clear that if the member states don't play ball the whole exercise is doomed, because most of the regulatory burden does not come from Brussels but from national legislation.”

On the Commission's hit-list are 344 draft laws that are still awaiting approval from EU member states and the European parliament. They will be subjected to an economic assessment to determine the harm they might cause business.

The oldest among them dealing with a “statute for the European company” was proposed in 1970 and is still awaiting approval more than three decades later.

In addition, the Commission has suggested it would withdraw or radically simplify a string of existing laws in such areas as medical devices, waste disposal, the approval of motor vehicles, company law and taxation.

While Mr Verheugen sets about axing legislation proposed during the Prodi era, the Barroso Commission has virtually frozen all new legislative activity. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the European parliament Green group, says he is reserving judgment on whether the deregulation drive of José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, would hit measures to protect the environment.

EU officials add that the Commission's environment department is already carrying out full impact assessments and wants its agenda to complement Mr Barroso's jobs and growth programme.

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