The European Commission will review European Union laws and be careful when writing new ones, the EU’s executive said on Wednesday, in an effort to answer intensifying criticism of what many in member states see as overregulation by Brussels.
In countries such as Britain, critics have pilloried the commission for EU rules such as one preventing drink makers from claiming that water can treat dehydration.
Brussels recently had to drop plans that would have forced restaurants to serve oil in sealed bottles instead of glass jugs or dipping bowls.
The commission’s move marks a change of tone at a body that proposes laws for the 28 countries in the bloc but which has had to contend with mistrust of its work as the financial crisis has flared and the economy deteriorated.
“Not everything that is good is good at a European level,” said Jose Manuel Barroso, the EC President.
“Let’s think twice whether, when and where we need to act at European level,” he said, launching the initiative to review EU law for possible simplification and drop contested proposals such as health and safety rules for hairdressers.
The number of Europeans who distrust the EU has doubled over the past six years to a record high.
In a recent poll, 60 per cent of Europeans “tended not to trust the EU” compared to the 32 per cent level of distrust in early 2007 before the onset of the global financial crisis.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised an EU membership referendum if he is re-elected in 2015. In the meantime, Britain is seeking to reshape its ties with the EU.
Summing up this mood, Nigel Farage, an EU lawmaker who leads the euro-skeptic UK Independence Party, said: “The commission exerts power by hyper-regulation; it wants to regulate in more areas of everyday life not less.”
This skepticism has long since spread throughout Europe. In recent German elections, a new anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany, narrowly failed to make it into the Bundestag (lower house of parliament).
The Dutch government has also called for a “more modest, more sober but more effective” European Union, with Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans warning that “the time for an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us”.
European Parliament elections in May are expected to deliver strong gains for euroskeptic parties.
“One driving force of British euroskepticism is the belief that the commission is a regulatory machine that has run out of control,” said Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a think tank. “Any further initiatives to cut red tape ... may help to alleviate euroskeptic concerns in the U.K. a little.”