In a resolution adopted on 27 November, the European Parliament expresses concerns about the ongoing revision process of the Commission’s guidelines on “Impact Assessment” (IA) of its policy initiatives (legislative and non-legislative). According to the resolution, the Parliament “[i]s concerned, however, that the draft revised guidelines are much less specific than the existing guidelines in terms of the scope for IAs and that they leave significantly more room for interpretation by the directorate-general responsible as regards the decision on whether or not an IA is required”. In response to fears that environmental impacts will be sidelined in the IA revision process, the resolution “[u]nderlines the fact that the Commission should ensure that economic, social, administrative and environmental aspects are assessed in equal depth”.
The resolution was not supported by the Greens/EFA, as it failed to uphold the often non-monetary nature of environmental regulatory initiatives.
As stated in a Motion for a Resolution, submitted by Green MEPs, “long-term benefits of regulatory action are often impossible to quantify in monetary terms (for example, reducing health impairments or maintaining eco-systems)” and “the emphasis on quantification wherever possible therefore introduces a structural bias in favour of more easily quantifiable aspects such as costs to economic operators as compared with social and environmental benefits, thus failing to adequately consider societal costs and benefits as a whole, and in particular social and environmental costs and benefits”.
The guidelines on impact assessment, accompanied by the “REFIT – Fit for growth” programme, which was launched in December 2012, constitute part of the Commission’s shift towards deregulating in order to cut administrative burden and costs to businesses. This process has been supported by the High Level Working Group on Administrative Burdens (HLG), an advisory body established in 2007 with the task of providing expertise in cutting red tape.
According to the report “Cutting red tape in Europe: Legacy and output”, which was prepared by the HLG and announced by President Barroso in October 2014, environmental regulations account for just a small percentage of the overall administrative load. Yet the Group proposes that they remain in the revision list. The advisory group also takes a step further and recommends that the Commission should avoid giving the impression that repealed legislative initiatives on the environment, such as the proposals for directives on environmental justice and on soil, will be reconsidered.
According to the HLG report, which was announced by former Commission President Barroso in October 2014, contrary to the prevailing perception held by businesses, the real administrative burden resulting from environmental regulations in the EU is lower than 1% of the estimated total administrative burden:
“The share of administrative burden identified in the 13 areas varies considerably. Hence, in order to achieve the 25% target it was crucial to identify and adopt measures in those areas which have the most noticeable impact on business. The three most burdensome areas, Taxation/Customs, Annual Accounts/Company law and Agriculture/Agriculture Subsidies, delivered a share of around 86% of the total administrative burden to business measured under the Action Programme. Out of these three, the Taxation and Customs legislation has been considered as the most important priority area to tackle, given that 70% of the total administrative burden can be attributed to this area. In contrast, the administrative burden stemming from the seven acts in the priority area Environment was estimated at around EUR 1.2 billion per annum, i.e. less than 1% of the estimated total administrative burden. However, businesses perceive the burden to be much higher in this area.”
Despite the comparatively low contribution of environmental regulations to the total administrative burden, “[t]he HLG urges the Commission to accelerate the REFIT programme to strengthen its credibility: All repeals announced in the Commission Work Programme of 2014 should be picked up as soon as possible. Also, for the sake of credibility the impression should be avoided that repeals can be reconsidered within a few years’ time as are currently the cases with the proposal for a Directive on access to justice in environmental matters and the proposal for a Directive establishing a framework for the protection of soil.”