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A change of mood in Brussels?

03 March 2015
A change of mood in Brussels?

On Thursday Policy Network will host the European commission’s first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, at a major event taking place at Thomson Reuters’ head office in London. The conference will take stock of the EU’s latest economic and reform initiatives and discuss the UK ‘renegotiation question’ two months before the general election.

Since taking up office last November, Timmermans has been pushing to ensure that EU institutions focus on a few key priorities – such as investment, energy, TTIP and the digital market –  and refrain from making unnecessary legislation. This change of mood in Brussels, which he will stress in his speech on Thursday, corresponds to what politicians across the board – particularly, but not exclusively, in Britain – have been advocating for several years. 

However, there are no easy wins. As a contribution to this week’s conference, held in conjunction with the European commission's representation in the UK, Policy Network today publishes three essays on regulation, mobility and democracy in the EU. Each of the pieces agrees that EU policy-making is a particularly complex game in which good intentions and expectations should be managed carefully. 

Andrea Renda, of the Centre for European Policy Studies, reminds us that the European commission has taken a lot of initiatives over the last 15 years to tackle the EU’s regulatory burden. He points towards possible methodological improvements in the impact assessment procedure of EU legislation, and calls for greater attention at a member state level when transposing and implementing EU law. He warns, nevertheless, that these efforts should not “be exclusively directed at cutting costs for businesses, as regulation must be oriented, in many sectors, also at pursuing the well-being of European citizens”.

Labour mobility is perhaps at the top of the agenda of those who want to renegotiate Britain’s place in Europe. For many in the UK, tougher rules are necessary to end mass migration  between countries of different living standards and to stop supposed ‘welfare free-riding’. But, as former EU commissioner for social affairs Laszlo Andor writes, this debate needs “more facts and fewer myths”. Increased mobility in the EU has costs and benefits that can be managed better by adapting national and EU policies. Any more radical option would break trust and prevent Europeans from enjoying the benefits of European integration.

A final essay by Professor Albert Weale of University College London sheds some new light onto the two-level dimension of EU decision-making. As recent debates in the euro area on the future of Greece have highlighted, heads of governments are increasingly torn apart by conflicting commitments to other national leaders and to their domestic electorate. The solution, suggests Weale, cannot lie in reinforcing EU democracy to the detriment of national democracy. Instead, it is to raise the role of national parliaments in EU politics.

The cost of Europe: can better EU regulation lift the burden?


Is the obsession with EU ‘red tape justified and can measures be taken to reduce it?



A fairer deal on free movement


Migration within the EU heads David Cameron’s planned renegotiation strategy. But the debate, whether in the UK or in Europe, needs more facts and fewer myths, as well as a recognition of the practical steps that can be taken both at a national and EU level



Defining a new political contract for the EU


The EU is faced with the challenges of fashioning practices and institutions that reconcile the conflicting demands on political representatives from their international partners and their domestic constituents. This has been particularly manifest in the eurozone recently, but it reflects a deeper challenge which also concerns non euro-area members such as the UK



(Photo credit: TPCOM)

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