“British businesses are drowning in EU red tape”: Really?

Not true. When we get it right, EU legislation is an exercise in cutting red tape! After all, we need common rules for the common market to protect workers, consumers and the environment.

When we replace 28 divergent sets of national rules with a single set of pan-European rules, we can cut duplication and compliance costs. Just one example: it’s now possible to register a trademark once, valid across 28 countries, instead of having to do 28 different sets of form-filling, registering, troubleshooting and fee-paying. Evidence

EU technical standards are generally drafted and agreed by the industry themselves. This means that most standards are based on the national regulations that they replace, rather than brand new requirements. Of course, we would need those rules anyway, but sharing them across the entire market means businesses only have to work to one set of standards rather than 28. Evidence

Simplifying the compliance framework for businesses in particular has been a major priority of the European Commission in recent years. The REFIT programme is a rolling scheme to evaluate, simplify and repeal rules. Evidence

In any case, calling rules that protect consumers, workers and the environment “red tape” is an old tactic of big corporations.

  • If you’re a factory owner and you’ve been told to cut emissions because of environmental rules, you don’t campaign to be allowed to pollute — that won’t get you any public sympathy. Instead, you campaign against “over-regulation”.
  • If you’re an employer who doesn’t like rules that require you to treat your employees fairly, you know that taking that on directly won’t get much sympathy. But if you say your company is held back by red tape requirements imposed by Brussels, you can be sure of favourable newspaper coverage and support from populist politicians.
  • If you’re a trader who doesn’t like the guarantees to consumers provided by EU legislation, it’s in your interests to campaign for “freedom from European red tape” and don’t mention what it’s about.
  • If you’re a banker who doesn’t like the EU-wide limit on bankers’ bonuses, you don’t campaign for bigger bonuses, but you do question the right of the EU to “interfere” with British business traditions.
  • If you’re an airline and don’t like paying compensation to passengers who are denied boarding because you overbooked, it makes sense to blame burdens from Brussels adding to your costs instead of admitting that you had some pretty dodgy practices in the first place.
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