At the latest Competitiveness Council (10 and 11 December 2012) EU ministers discussed the need for revision of the common industrial policy. In the shadow of the economic recession and its impact on industry, voices calling for relaxation of the legislation relating particularly to environmental impact assessments and permitting procedures. According to Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Employment Álvaro Santos Pereira, “we can't be naïve regarding some parts of the Globe. We need to have a reciprocity policy regarding the treatment we get in other countries. It's not acceptable that because of our environmental and commercial policy we have lost our industry to other countries. We have to guarantee that this reciprocity happens without affecting our industry”.
The Portuguese minister’s remarks are stronger than the conclusions agreed by the competitiveness ministers, who requested that the European Commission “take care that no unnecessary burdens [on industry] are created by EU regulation”.
In a letter published in the Wall Street Journal, Santos Pereira, together with Jose Manuel Soria (Spain’s Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism), Arnaud Montebourg (France’s Minister of Industrial Renewal), Corrado Passera (Italy’s Minister of Economic Development) and Philipp Rösler (Germany’s Minister of Economics and Technology), call for pro-industry EU policy reform. “In light of the industrial challenges that Europe and our economies are facing, the Competitiveness Council should work to promote a constructive review of European horizontal policies that have an impact on industrial competitiveness. These include single-market rules, competition, trade, environmental, cohesion, innovation and research policies, as well as the state aid framework and sector-based policies.” According to a press release of Portugal’s Ministry of Economy and Employment, the five Ministers signing the letter to WSJ decided to form a group titled “Friends of Industry”, sharing the same views on the need for Europe to review its laws in a more pro-industry direction. In the same announcement, Minister Pereira states that “Europe has to relax some of its rules. Often, Europe is more focused on keeping very fundamentalist rules that affect our industry and undermine our jobs ", said the Minister, adding that Europe should not be 'more Catholic than the Pope in relation to other regions of the globe”.
In the meantime, the Commission announced its proposal for a new EIA Directive, following a wide consultation with stakeholders from the industry. According to the EC, “[t]he new directive improves and clarifies the screening process, i.e. the procedure for determining whether a project should be subject to an environmental impact assessment. The streamlined screening procedure will ensure that only projects with significant environmental effects are subject to an impact assessment, such as projects using or affecting valuable resources, projects proposed for environmentally sensitive locations, or projects with potentially hazardous or irreversible effects. For instance, impacts on human health and natural resources should be considered during drilling for shale gas exploration projects.”