As promised, BM's claws are now back from the sharpeners, so it is with some care that BM raises his hat to the European Commission's in-house turd-polisher.

Whoever the brainchild was behind the "refit" initiative to do away with EU red tape managed to make a bundle of frayed old rope look like a large spindle of finely spun silk.

And to aim the initiative at a tame British press during party conference season merits an extra tug of the forelock.

Bien joué.

Nine years ago, the EU's then industry commissioner Gunther Verheugen vainly promised a "bonfire of the regulations," only to be frustrated by recalcitrant eurocrats who found the initiative counter-intuitive.

EU unveils red-tape-cutting toolkit
Now the commission is having another go, dubbing it less ambitiously and more ambiguously "Refit", for "regulatory fitness and performance."

It's a nice bit of branding, which allows EUHQ to class all sorts of policy initiatives as part of this drive, whether they actually cut red tape or not.

Much of the measures listed are things the EU has already done. So no news there.

Some of them are measures already proposed and in the pipeline. Idem.

And they cover efforts such as "consolidation". This involves putting together related legal texts that may have been adopted over time into one document. That may make the laws easier to consult, but doesn't remove any of their effect.

It also includes numerous efforts to remove laws and proposals that are obsolete. This may clear the desk administratively, or as one twitterwit noted, "leave more room on the bookshelf." But Europeans and the businesses they work for won't feel any difference. In fact, in many cases the reason a law or proposal has become obsolete is that it has been superceded by another law or proposal.

And many of what the Refit communication promises are future "evaluations", are simply review initiatives the various policy departments had already penciled in. 

It just looks and smells like the commission has gone to each of its policy directorates and asked for everything, ANYTHING from the last ten years and in the near future that could be deemed to fall under some vague effort to make laws 'fitter'. 

Here's just a few examples.


  • The commission trumpets it's going to withdraw a proposal for a "soil framework directive."

Hurrah says the farming lobby, which clearly didn't read on. The commission says it “remains committed” to the objective of the proposal, and may “maintain” the proposal, or withdraw it “opening the way for an alternative initiative.” Hardly removing the threat of regulatory burden. 


  • A directive on the classification, packaging and labeling of dangerous preparations will be repealed, the communication pledges.

It doesn't note, however, that it was already foreseen in 2008 that the directive would be repealed from June 2015 and be replaced by a regulation. 


  • Two proposals "regarding information to the general public on medicinal products subject to medical prescription" are for the chop.

But on closer reading the two proposals in question were simply to amend existing laws. Their withdrawal doesn't head off the creation of new laws.


  • The commission will, it says, repeal a directive on the scientific examination of questions relating to food.

Would this be the directive that applies to the work of the Scientific Committee for Food, which has been inoperative since 1997? A directive that has been wholly redundant since the 2002 creation of the European Food Safety Authority? Good riddance to old, inapplicable law.


  • The commission will repeal a regulation on steel statistics, because figures "are now collected though different direct arrangements with steel companies. The legislation is therefore no longer necessary," says the commission.

Or, the legislation is no longer necessary because it ceased to apply from 2010. Its shredding will not, therefore, unshackle the steel industry from unnecessary number-crunching.

Enough yet? Here's some more.


  • The commission is withdrawing a proposal for a regulation on crime statistics.

It's a proposal rejected wholesale by the European Parliament in November 2012. No new initiative there, then. The proposal has already been sunk.


  • The commission says it will repeal 'arrangements for cooperation between financial intelligence units of the member states.'

An alternative law to be agreed in the meantime (anti-money laundering) will make it obsolete. One-in-one-out.


  • The commission is withdrawing a proposal for a regulation on the statute of a European private company.

But then the commission admits it's considering "a new proposal in this area."



All of this, however, is not to criticise the initiative in its political (as opposed to policy) intent. It was clearly not crafted to offer any great deregulatory substance, rather to be a bone to throw the three mainstream political parties in Britain as they have their annual bunfights and each try to fight off creeping  - nay galloping - euroscepticism.

Credit to a European Commission that is finally waking up to a media game that its detractors, particularly in Britain, have been playing to great effect: dress something up as news, feed it to an unquestioning press with a soundbite and some pretty colourful pictures, and Robert est votre oncle.



Just don't expect some of us not to read the small print or conduct a modicum of dilligence...



BM

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