According to Eurobarometer statistics, nearly three out of four EU citizens think Brussels creates too much bureaucracy. In response, in 2012, as part of its 'better regulation' drive, the European commission launched the regulatory fitness and performance (Refit) programme, aimed at making EU legislation more efficient and effective.
A high-level group, led by former Bavarian minister-president Edmund Stoiber, has been advising the commission and has already made recommendations on reducing the administrative burden across the EU. Refit touches upon all European legislation, which is scrutinised in full by the college.
Based on this scrutiny proposals are submitted for simplification, withdrawal, and even suggestions that some legislation be fully repealed. Particular attention has been paid to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they feel most affected by the regulatory burdens caused by European laws.
Better regulation is an important priority for parliament's legal affairs committee, which has decided to draw up an own-initiative report on the subject. As parliament's rapporteur, I believe it is important to support the commission in its efforts to take the recurring complaints of too much 'Brussels bureaucracy' seriously.
At a time when euroscepticism is gaining popularity across member states, it is vital for the European institutions to prove that not only are they listening to citizens' concerns, they are also willing to address them and make changes. Ultimately, this is about regaining popular support for the European project. I believe a fitness programme for EU laws is the way forward.
European legislation needs to be precise, but it also needs to be as un-bureaucratic and effective as possible. Using this thinking, European laws would be easier to implement in member states, and the administrative burden for citizens and businesses would be reduced.
However, this should not lead to sensible regulations at EU level being called into question. What matters is quality, not quantity. As such, it is particularly important to have a coherent process throughout the cycle of a legislative initiative, from its introduction, consultation, impact assessment and enforcement through to its implementation.
When examining legislative proposals, I believe the commission's impact assessment board needs to act in a more balanced way. EU legislation is not a simple cost-benefit analysis.
A proper assessment process must put the economic, social and environmental consequences of legislative proposals on an equal footing, while also taking into account what impact they have on the internal market or on EU integration. It is worth pointing out that European laws usually replace around 28 separate national standards. They are often more effective, create common European added value and ultimately mean less bureaucracy than a patchwork of national regulations.
In principle, I believe that the commission's focus on the interests of SMEs though the proposal of regulations adapted for these companies is worthy of support. These businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they should be able to concentrate on their core activities rather than preoccupying themselves with unnecessary administrative tasks.
However, two thirds of the EU's working population is employed by an SME. This is why it is important to me as a Social Democrat that SME adaptation tests under Refit are not carried out at the expense of standards covering the protection of workers, consumers or the environment. Reducing bureaucracy must not become synonymous with deregulation.
As part of Refit, a check by member states on the implementation of EU legislation is a requirement. According to the commission, EU countries are responsible for one third of administrative burdens, due to inefficient implementation of EU laws. It therefore makes sense to look beyond Brussels towards Europe's capitals, and carefully pinpoint unnecessary bureaucracy at national level, known as 'gold-plating'.
Consequently, I would argue that the member states should be identifying when they have created more administrative work than planned by the EU. In order to achieve greater transparency and a closer relationship with citizens, the general public should be made aware of who holds responsibility for what.
This would probably also go some way to eliminate any 'Brussels bashing' tendencies, although we should not forget that member states have a right to set higher national standards than those laid out in any EU directive. However, this, of course, should not be confused with overregulation.
Last but not least, the reduction of bureaucracy should be of major concern to all European stakeholders. Carrying out fitness checks on EU legislation is without a doubt the correct approach.
However, it is equally important to ensure that social and environmental achievements in Europe are not compromised under the guise of reducing bureaucracy. This would only further jeopardise the trust between Europe's institutions and the citizens of the union.