Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič at the high-level conference on ‘Joining forces for the next generation of Better Regulation’

Today offers the perfect opportunity to join forces and discuss how better law-making can best support Europe’s recovery from the pandemic.

In challenging times such as these, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible  for the benefit of Europeans and European businesses – especially our small and medium-sized enterprises.

That is why we are stepping up our effors to simplify EU legislation, reduce its burden and cut red tape, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation in order to maximise its benefits.

Although the Commission already has a top-notch better regulation system – as recognised by the OECD – we must strive for more.

We must remember that challenges often bring with them opportunity.

Our aim should therefore be not only to master current challenges, but to be better prepared for anything the future might throw at us as well.

We cannot just bounce back from the crisis, but bounce forward.

Or to put it in the words of Winston Churchill: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Last April, the Commission presented its new Communication on better regulation titled ‘Joining forces to make better laws’, capturing our ambition.

The Communication focused on four main aims: Improving the way we consult the public and stakeholders. We are making it easier to provide input, such as through simpler questionnaires and a single ‘call for evidence’ via our improved ‘Have your Say’ portal; Boosting transparency, by improving access to the evidence behind every legislative proposal, including by setting up a common evidence register, the Joint Legislative Portal, together with the Parliament and the Council; Implementing the ‘one-in, one-out’ approach to minimise burdens resulting from EU legislation; and Improving the analysis and reporting of key impacts of EU legislation and further integrating strategic foresight into the better regulation agenda.

Last month, the Commission followed-up on the Communication with the publication of new Better Regulation Guidelines and a new Better Regulation toolbox.

These offer comprehensive guidance, key questions and concrete examples, with a set of 69 tools to turn our ambitions into reality.

They cover specific aspects of evaluations and stakeholder consultation, as well as how to estimate costs, embed foresight and identify impacts on SMEs, employment and the environment.

This will help ensure our policymakers – in preparing new initaitives or managing existing legislation – deliver on better regulation for those who will benefit on the ground.

It will also allow us to strengthen our analysis of impacts. For example, it will help us to: report on the EU’s contributions to the UN sustainable development goals; pay greater attention to all dimensions of equality; assess the impact of the applications of the ‘do no significant harm’ and ‘digital by default’ principles; and carry out a territorial impact assessment and rural proofing and consider the external implications of internal policies and their impact on third countries.

All these efforts highlight that we are keeping evidence-based and transparent policy-making at the heart of our work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe we now have the means in place to make the next generation of better lawmaking a success. But we still face challenges, and there are three areas where I think we must focus our efforts moving forward.

First, it will be crucial to strike the right balance in the implementation of the new ‘one-in, one-out’ approach in burden reduction.

While keeping the benefits of EU legislation in mind, we need to ensure that costs remain reasonable and proportionate.

In practice, this means that we are starting to offset new burdens resulting from the Commission’s proposals by reducing existing burdens in the same policy area.

But let me reassure you that this will not be applied mechanically.

For example, it does not mean that every new piece of legislation will require an existing law to be withdrawn – only that the burdens on people and businesses are offset to the maximum extent possible.

We will seek to achieve burden reduction by savings in the same policy area. But this will never be at the expense of our environmental, social or socio-economic standards.

We are currently piloting the ‘one-in, one-out’ approach, which will be fully implemented next year under the 2022 Commission Work Programme.

In addition, we can build on the experience of the Commission’s regulatory fitness and performance programme (REFIT), under which we have aleady screened existing legislation for opportunities to simplify and reduce burdens.

Still, the ‘one-in, one-out’ approach is a new stepping stone, which I believe will bring along a shift in mindset across EU policymaking. In particular, it will bring an increased focus on evidence-based policies and estimating costs.

We will report on the pilot project next year in the Annual Burden Survey, ahead of a full stocktake of ‘one-in, one-out’ in 2023.

Second, we must ensure that EU legislation is fit for the future. The pandemic has shown that the EU has to do more to better anticipate the challenges emerging on the horizon.

That is why we are integrating strategic foresight more closely into our Better Regulation agenda – to ensure that taking a long-term perspective becomes a mainstream practice.

For this, there needs to be, on each legislative proposal, more systematic consideration of key megatrends that will affect the EU’s global position in the coming decades.

Notably, our 2021 Strategic Foresight Report highlighted climate change, digital hyperconnectivity, the pressure on our democratic systems, and demographic change as the megatrends that will shape the world of tomorrow.

Nobody can tell the future, of course. So we need to develop agile and future-proof regulation.

This will ensure that our society benefits from the potential of innovation to increase prosperity, sustainability and well-being, while mitigating possible risks and adverse effects.

For example, in the proposal for the Artificial Intelligence Act, Member States’ competent authorities are encouraged to establish regulatory sandboxes to facilitate the development and testing of innovative AI systems under strict regulatory oversight before these systems are placed on the market.

Third, the engagement of stakeholders at all levels will be crucial for the success of our Better Regulation agenda.

Our ‘Have your Say’ portal will play a big role in encouraging Europeans to contribute to calls for evidence. As a rule, they will be available in all EU official languages and will run for 12 weeks.

Last year, more than 1.2 million people shared their ideas on our initiatives. Input like this, from those affected directly by EU legislation, is essential for good policymaking.

The work of the Fit for Future Platform, a high-level expert group that I have the pleasure of chairing, is also contributing to this objective.

By bringing together national, regional and local authorities, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee and other key stakeholders, we benefit from expert knowledge to identify and reduce burdens at all levels.

This includes – as an example – how best to avoid complicated and burdensome planning and permitting procedures for the infrastructure of the future.

Working together more closely will also help make better law-making a shared endeavour – after all, better regulation should not only be a common objective but also a common effort.

For instance, the European Parliament, the Council and Member States should ensure that the impact of major changes to Commision proposals, made as part of the legislative process, is properly assessed.

This will help avoid unnessary or disproportionate burdens being placed on those who have to apply and comply with EU legislation on the ground.

Moreover, Member States should not impose additional substantial burdens at national or sub-national level. There needs to be more information sharing on such so-called ‘gold-plating’ measures.

We need stakeholders at all levels to ensure that our proposals deliver full benefit for Europeans and European businesses, and support our recovery as we craft a stronger and more resilient Europe.

Events like this are therefore very important, and I am delighted that such a diverse pool of people will be part of the discussions today.

We will hear from the President of the European Court of Auditors, Members of the European Parliament, representatives from Member States and those who represent the voice of regional and local bodies, organised civil society and SMEs in Europe.

So let’s all pull our weight, while pulling together.

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