I feel I ought to applaud the announcement from José Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese President of the European Commission, that he is planning to scrap a raft of fatuous or redundant EU directives. It would be churlish to do otherwise. However, as we shall see, it would be a mistake to rejoice too much.
When taken at face value, the claims from Brussels sound like a reversal of the core assumptions upon which the European Commission operates. Previously it had taken as axiomatic that all regulations imposed across national boundaries create a conformity which enhances the liberalisation of trade. It is a fallacy but one that legitimises the thousands of Brussels jobs working out these rules and trying to make sure they are enforced, as well as the hundreds of thousands busy complying with them.
The commission has announced a list of 68 legislative proposals which it plans to withdraw or amend; however, 183 proposals were reviewed so 115 survived unscathed, which shows how limited the proposals really are. Barroso also promises to cull the 80,000-page law book of the European Union (EU) to a more modest 50,000; somehow I dont believe him.
It is nevertheless my belief that Barroso, our supreme bureaucrat, has undergone something of an intellectual conversion over the past few decades. As a young man he was not surprisingly, given how conformist and conventional the young tend to be a socialist. We learn he has mellowed and is now an advocate of plural democracy and open markets.
Portugal, his home, has blossomed since the fall of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar in 1968 and the subsequent relaxation of the fascist ideals of autarchy and state direction. For Portugal, accession to the European Union (EU) was an opening to the world. For Britain, however, it has been a closing.
The commissions declared plan to start reducing the 80,000 pages of petty rules that are its statute book has, comically, provoked members of the European Parliament to voice opposition to the moves. Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament, has questioned whether the commission has the authority to withdraw legislation which has already gone before the parliament. Procedurally, he may have a point but it gives us a glimpse that the so-called European Parliament has minimal, perhaps zero, control of the commission. The British Parliament is mute and nods through every new directive too. Have we ever heard of the Commons trying to countermand a Brussels directive ? Westminster is merely a provincial assembly now.
Le Figaro, the French newspaper