EU plans for ‘Better Regulation’ are threat to environmental protections

19 May 2015

Reforms to the way the European Union decides legislation proposed today are a threat to environmental, health, safety and other standards that protect citizens, says Friends of the Earth Europe.

The 'Better Regulation' proposal from the European Commission reflects a massive power grab from the Commission away from the European Parliament and European Council and gives more influence to business lobby groups, Friends of the Earth Europe asserts.

Paul de Clerck, campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "These reforms are more about battering regulation than bettering it. The European Commission's so-called 'Better Regulation' is about introducing more and more barriers to prevent new environmental, labour and health and safety standards that protect citizens. The new initiatives proposed also risk weakening existing standards on food, chemicals and biodiversity.

"The Commission is trying to grab power from democratically elected parliamentarians and give it to business-friendly experts. We have seen from experience that so-called independent advisors only look at costs for business and ignore benefits for society. Truly better regulation must protect everyday citizens, workers and our environment more not less."

Today's proposal pushes for:

- a strengthening of the role of REFIT (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme) initiatives.
REFIT has recently resulted in the delay and weakening of legislation on air quality and resource use, and EU legislation to protect nature is currently under threat. New REFIT initiatives are proposed in relation to food, chemicals (REACH and other chemical legislation) and environmental reporting.

- A Regulatory Scrutiny Board including three external people and a de-facto veto power. 
External members are expected to be business-oriented specialists that mainly look at costs for business and not at benefits for society. Legislative proposals from the Commission that do not get approval from this board will not be taken forward. This gives this board, including three unaccountable members, veto power even before Parliament or Council can have their say.

- a lighter legislative regime for small and medium-sized and companies and outright exemptions for micro-businesses.
Friends of the Earth Europe is concerned this leaves citizens and the environment less protected, or not protected at all, against negative impacts of these companies' operations.
It says further proposals could discourage member states from adopting higher environmental standards than comprises agreed at the EU level, which are often minimal. This is also a strong disincentive to stronger EU-wide environmental standards.

- less power for the European Parliament and more power to business lobby groups.
The Commission wants to make sure that political compromises achieved by the Council and the European Parliament have to undergo another impact assessment, thus not only slowing down the legislative process but also providing another opportunity to take out elements that serve society but might result in costs for business.

Yesterday, more than 50 civil society organisations joined forces to form the 'Better Regulation Watchdog' – a network to protect citizens', workers' and consumers' rights. The network was launched in Brussels and its members are concerned that the 'Better Regulation' agenda aims to weaken or undermine essential regulations and subordinate the public good to corporate interests. Friends of the Earth Europe is one of the leading and founding members of the network.