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Speech of the Minister of Public Administration Dr Gregor Virant at the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament

Check Against Delivery

It is with great pleasure that during the Slovenian Presidency I address the Committee today concerning better regulation. The Legal Affairs Committee has a long track record of interest in better regulation and has played an important role promoting the agenda within the European Parliament, as well as with other institutions. I very much welcome the Committee's involvement and, on behalf of the Slovenian Presidency, I should like to say that my colleagues and I look forward to working constructively with you in the next six months.

The Slovenian Presidency falls at a crucial phase in the evolution of the better regulation agenda. The Commission's Second Strategic Review, which is due to be adopted at the end of this month, provides an opportunity to take stock of the progress made so far and identify the areas where the EU institutions need to do better. However, actions speak louder than words, and I hope that during the Slovenian Presidency, we shall see more examples of application of better regulation principles and techniques contributing towards better policy outcomes which will in turn have a strong impact on the competitiveness of businesses in the European Union.

The Slovenian Presidency, therefore, has a busy agenda on better regulation which will be one of our top priorities. It will feature prominently in the Competitiveness Council in February and May, and also at the European Council meeting in March. I shall now outline our objectives for achieving progress in the key areas of work.

In relation to administrative burdens reduction, it will be important to ensure, during 2008, that the evaluation work on the 13 priority areas identified in the Commission's Action Programme continues, with a view to achieving the 25% target by 2012. However, it is equally important that this initiative delivers results preferably at an earlier stage. With this in mind, we would like to see the Commission to make proposals for reductions on an on-going basis, as soon as significant burdens are identified. I am encouraged by the progress being made in the area of Company Law, where we expect to see proposals during the Slovenian Presidency, and I hope we can see similar activities in some other priority areas, too. At the same time, the Presidency will give priority to securing agreement on the implementation of the second package, ˝the fast track˝, actions for removing the Commission's administrative burdens where possible. I believe that this sends out a strong political message on the Council's commitment to better regulation generally, and the administrative burden reduction specifically. The Council and Parliament have been collaborating well on these fast track actions and I look forward to seeing this continue in the coming months.

As regards the simplification of the existing EU regulation, we hope to make good progress with the proposals we have inherited from the Portuguese Presidency, as well as the new ones adopted during the Slovenian Presidency. Many of these proposals will have significant economic benefits and it is important that these proposals are agreed as soon as possible, so that the economic benefits begin to be felt by businesses. This will be a visible sign that the European Union's better regulation initiative is making a real difference.

On the subject of administrative burden reduction and simplification, I should like to say that I value highly the input of businesses to designing proposals. It is businesses, after all who are the ones affected by regulations and who are therefore best placed to comment on how things could be made less burdensome for them, while still achieving policy objectives. This sort of consultation is something we undertake effectively at the national level in Slovenia, and I hope that the Commission will make good use of the suggestions it receives from its administrative burden web site and from the High Level Group of independent stakeholders chaired by Edmund Stoiber.

The Slovenian Presidency will also make a contribution in this area. On April 17, we shall be co-hosting with the European Commission and UEAPME a conference in Bled on SMEs and better regulation. The target audience for this event is policy makers and small businesses from across the EU. The key output will be to agree a number of concrete proposals for simplification and administrative burden reductions to submit to the Commission.

A third area where the Slovenian Presidency will aim for substantial progress is on impact assessment. We will ensure that the Council makes full use of Commission impact assessments when it analyses regulatory proposals. I also look forward to the Commission updating its impact assessment guidelines to reflect the recommendations of the independent evaluation which were reported last year. Broadening the scope of impact assessment to cover all significant proposals – including comitology proposals – better consultation and earlier preparation of impact assessments will all be important factors in improving the quality of Commission impact assessments.

There is also greater scope for inter-institutional collaboration on impact assessment. This is an area which has been difficult for the Council, which has been unable to fulfil its commitments to undertake impact assessments on substantive amendments to Commission proposals. The European Parliament has a better track record, in terms of establishing arrangements and resources for this work to take place. I believe the Council can learn much from the Parliament's approach.

I mentioned at the beginning the contribution of this Committee to the debate on regulatory reform in the European Union. I very much welcome this and I read your recent report on monitoring the application of the Community law with great interest. Effective implementation and application of Community law in Member States is, of course, an important part of the better regulation initiative. Clarity over the legal obligations as to who is affected and how regulation will be enforced is important to business. If the legal obligations are unclear, this can increase costs as businesses will take a risk-adverse approach to compliance. Similarly, more can be done to ensure even compliance among Member States through a more joined-up approach to implementation. This is particularly important for businesses operating in more than one Member State. Differences in implementation and enforcement in Member States can lead to confusion and add unnecessary costs to businesses. More uniform implementation in Member States, based on the minimum legal requirements, would remedy this problem and help boost business competitiveness in the internal market.

As I have outlined, this promises to be a very busy – not to mention challenging - six months’ period.  However, I am confident that it will also be a rewarding period, as the Slovenian Presidency has the opportunity to make a real difference on the better regulation agenda, by ensuring it delivers tangible economic benefits to European businesses.

Thank you for your attention.


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Date: 21.01.2008