Better drafting of EU regulations would remove burden on business

19th April 2016


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  • EU

Author

Robert Stanners Duncan

Most concerns raised by businesses over EU environmental regulations are related to a lack of clarity in the directives rather than policies themselves, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

In a report outlining the findings of its inquiry into the environmental benefits of EU membership, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) found that the majority of concerns it heard about environmental policy were related to their implementation by member states.

Campaign groups told the MPs that implemention was not always sufficiently robust to deliver environmental benefits, whereas businesses expressed concern about burdens arising from regulations that they believed were being applied too stringently.

‘The tension between these two interests is common to UK policy. However, we agree with the widespread view among witnesses that greater clarity in the drafting of directives and a better use of evidence at both European and UK levels would help address these issues,’ the committee concluded.

Several witnesses argued that regulatory inconsistencies arise not only because of ambiguity in the underlying legislation but also because of national and local regulators who are given flexibility to interpret EU directives when they are enforcing them.

Trade body Energy UK told the committee that the Environment Agency relied too heavily on lawyers when interpreting directives and formulating guidance, and too little on the intent of the policymakers. This resulted in decisions that did not always benefit the environment, while increasing costs and burdens on businesses, it claimed.

In its evidence, the Aldersgate Group stressed the importance of EU institutions providing clearer rules on directives and for national regulators to make pragmatic decisions in area where they have flexibility.

The Renewable Energy Association stressed that legislation should be short and comprehensible because small businesses, such as those at the forefront developing marine renewable energy, do not have the resources to deal with lengthy documentation that may also need expert interpretation.

IEMA told the committee that significant improvements to implementation could be achieved through applying appropriate environmental skills. However, skills provision is rarely included in implementation plans at national or European level, it said.

The committee said the European Commission had responded to the UK government’s demand to update regulations to make them less onerous. The MPs said they supported this objective as long as revisions ensured the regulations were proportionate and effective. The process should not become a cover for weakening key environmental protections, it warned.

Overall, the committee concluded that membership of the EU had been good for the UK’s environment, providing a platform to pursue its environmental objectives internationally and influence the strategic, long-term direction of policy.

EU membership has also ensured that action in the UK has been taken faster and more thoroughly than would otherwise have been the case, he said.

There are significant unanswered questions about what relationship the UK would have with member states and the rest of the world if it left the EU, the committee said.

However, the UK would still need to meet international environmental commitments made in the UN and elsewhere, and would still have to comply with some aspects of EU environmental legislation, particularly for trade, it noted.

Outside the EU, the UK would have significantly less ability to influence the process of developing laws, the committee warned.

Peter Lilley, Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, who is a member of the committee, disagreed with the conclusions of the report, arguing that its conclusions were inconsistent and that his colleagues had ignored some of the evidence received.

He claimed that many of the witnesses were biased in favour of EU membership since up to 60% of their funding comes from Europe.

‘Our inquiry failed to examine systematically the scope for devolving powers back to the UK if we remain within the EU or the merits of handling cross-border issues inter-governmentally if we leave,’ Lilley stated in an alternative report.

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