Open Europe Blog

Open Europe has today published a list of the top 100 most costly EU regulations, detailing the annual cost of the laws, the cumulative cost of them by 2020, and the article base in the Lisbon Treaty for each regulation . We estimate that these laws will in total cost the UK economy a staggering £184 billion by 2020. To put that figure in context: for the same amount, the UK Government could abolish the country’s entire budget deficit and still leave the Exchequer with some £6 bn. All cost estimates are based on the UK Government’s own impact assessments so the figures are instructive.

The top four items on the list account for almost £97 billion – or 53% – of the total cost of the 100 regulations by 2020. Looking at these four laws clearly illustrates the enormous, and often overlooked, potential for the UK economy to save money by making a few key regulations less burdensome. Notably, cutting down the costs of these regulations could happen without any of the stated benefits being lost in the process.

1) The Working Time Directive, to cost the UK economy £32.8 bn by 2020: This Directive has been widely criticised for being overprescriptive, impractical and generally out of touch with reality – particularly as it applies to the NHS. Merely changing the on-call time and compensatory rest rules entailed in the WTD could save the UK’s public sector millions – if not billions – of punds every year.

2) The EU’s Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package, to cost the UK economy £28.2 bn by 2020: As we’ve argued before, the EU could find a much more cost-effective way to achieve carbon emission reduction by setting overall targets, and then allowing for individual member states to decide for themselves how best to reach them (as opposed to the current micromanaging approach). This would hurt the economy less and provide a more credible alternative to follow for countries outside Europe.

3) Energy Perfomance Certificates for buildings, a.k.a Home Information Packs, to cost the UK economy £20.2 bn by 2020. Again, this cannot possibly be described as the most cost-effective way to achieve reductions in carbon emissions from the residential sector.

4) The Temporary Agencey Workers Directive, to be implemented in 2011 and set to cost the UK economy £15.6 bn by 2020: When he was Business Secretary, John Hutton warned that this Directive could consign “literally thousands of people to benefit dependency” (this was in 2007, before Gordon Brown was outnegotiated in a horsetrading deal involving the UK’s opt-out from the EU’s 48 hour working week. The Government is now trying to defend the Directive).

Making these laws less burdensome or tailor them to better fit the UK is not easy – but it certainly isn’t impossible. Neither is avoiding repeats of these laws. But this does require a far tougher and smarter approach to EU regulations/negotiations than that employed by the current government. See here for our ideas on what such an approach should entail (chapter 5).

An excellent place to start would be for an incoming UK government to opt out altogether from the articles in the EU treaties which give rise to EU’s social legislation (articles 151 to 161 as amended by the Lisbon Treaty). With correspondng domestic reforms, this could instantly reduce much of the cost stemming from, for instance, the Working Time Directive and the Temporary Workers Directive.

At a time when every penny is needed to close a massive public deficit, surely cutting the cost of regulation should be a top priority for the next government?

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