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Brussels, 11 February 2003

Commission launches major initiative to simplify and streamline EU legislation

The European Commission today adopted a Communication setting out an ambitious and detailed Framework for Action to simplify, streamline and improve access to the body of EU law, known as the acquis communautaire. This is the latest stage in the Commission's Better Regulation initiative, a key part of the objective set at the Lisbon summit in 2000 of making the EU the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. The initiative aims to establish a reliable, up-to-date and user-friendly body of EU law for the benefit of citizens, workers and businesses across Europe. As a first contribution, the Commission now proposes immediate removal of obsolete legislation amounting to over 1,000 pages of the Official Journal. Through a concerted programme of consolidation and codification, it is estimated that the volume of legislation could be reduced by as much as 35,000 pages by 2005. At the end of 2002, the body of binding secondary legislation adopted by the European institutions amounted to 97,000 pages of the Official Journal. The Commission now looks to the European Parliament and the March European Council to endorse its approach.

Commenting on the proposals, Commission President Romano Prodi said: "The European Commission is committed to simplifying legislation, in order both to reduce the cost and complexity of doing business in Europe and to make the EU more comprehensible for its citizens in line with our governance objectives. This is only the first step. I'm convinced that through a determined consolidation and codification effort, we can cut back tens of thousands of pages of outdated legal texts by the end of my mandate."

EU legislation has created major new rights for citizens and workers and opened up markets throughout the EU. While the benefits are there for all to see, governments, citizens and businesses sometimes criticise laws they perceive as being unnecessarily burdensome and complex. Although Member States' legislation is often a more serious obstacle, the Commission is determined to ensure that EU rules are clear, understandable and in proportion to their objectives. This is especially important in the run-up to enlargement, with the increase in the number of official languages this will entail.

Action on the stock of existing legislation

The Commission's Better Regulation initiative of June 2002 set out to ensure an improved standard of regulation in the EU's daily legislative work. It also proposed that work should be done on the stock of existing legislation, some dating back several decades. In its Communication to the Laeken Summit (December 2001), the Commission called for a simplification of EU law and a reduction in the volume of legal texts by 25% by the end of 2004.

Today's Communication proposes for the first time ever a comprehensive policy for the entire body of binding secondary EU law and a review of its organisation, presentation and proportionality. It lays out a detailed programme to remove "dead wood" legal texts which are obsolete and outdated - rewrite legal texts to make them more coherent and understandable and less voluminous, and provide more user-friendly access to EU law. It thus begins a process of gradual modernisation and simplification of existing legislation. The Communication identifies concrete objectives and sets out corresponding specific actions in a phased approach up to the end of 2004. To track progress, the Commission will establish a scoreboard on the evolution of EU law.

Simplifying Community policies and laws

The Commission's initiative also proposes putting more emphasis on simplifying the substance of EU policies and the form of earlier legislative approaches. This goes beyond simple re-drafting of existing legislative texts and implies an effort to create more efficient, flexible and proportionate rules for those who have to respect and enforce them. Simplifying policy and legislative approaches requires very careful preparation and inter-institutional decision-making procedures.

The Commission proposes to base its work on a comprehensive set of prioritisation indicators for simplification to identify specific priority sectors and legal acts. In the initial phase, simplification work will focus on areas such as industrial products, agriculture, health and food safety, taxation and customs, employment and social affairs, competition and the internal market. By way of example, a priority sector identified by the Commission is the type-approval system for passenger cars which alone accounts for some 170 legal acts, taking up about 3,500 pages of the Official Journal. This could be considerably reduced through a new and simpler policy and legislative approach.

Clear, up-to-date and less voluminous legislation - without changing the law

Community legislation needs constantly to be up-dated to reflect progress in science, society, and international relations. This results in layer-upon-layer of amending legislation which obliges users to consult both the original legislation and subsequent amendments to understand the law in force.

Existing programmes have already led to the consolidation of two-thirds of the acquis. This work brings together, in a single new text, all the provisions of an act together with subsequent amendments. This facilitates the reading of Community law and it also cuts back on its volume. While consolidation only produces informal streamlining, codification results in the same benefits as well as a formal legal status of the new texts - after normal inter-institutional approval. The Commission launched in 2001 a programme to codify, wherever possible, existing legislation and estimated, at the time, that this process could reduce the volume of legislation by some 35,000 pages when completed, without changing the law itself. While codification work will be suspended in the nine months prior to enlargement to ease the administrative burden on the new Member States, the current Commission exercise is due to be completed by the end of 2005. This should allow for Council and Parliament to finish their work by the end of 2006. To ensure that the future body of legislation remains manageable, the Commission proposes to more systematically ensure consolidation and codification whenever legislation is amended.

The Commission will also initiate and propose removal from the acquis of legislation which is clearly outdated and obsolete, either by formal legal repeal or by other similar measures. The Commission has already identified some 450 acts which could be removed from the acquis, representing well over 1,000 pages of the Official Journal.

Presentation and consultation of the acquis

Citizens and operators, and even professional lawyers and the institutions, have to invest considerable time and effort when consulting the reference instruments such as CELEX, the Directory of Legislation in Force, and EUR-Lex and often do not find satisfactory answers.

The Communication proposes reinforcing inter-institutional collaboration to come forward this year with proposals on a more user-friendly presentation and definition of the acquis. This should include clearer indication of whether legal acts are still valid or obsolete, and methods to differentiate between generally applicable acts and those with specific purposes. It is proposed to give a clearer and better presentation of valid and generally applicable secondary legislation, separately from legislation with less general relevance.

Inter-institutional collaboration

While the Commission can undertake much of this work on its own, the success of the project depends to a great extent on the full and active cooperation of the European Parliament and Council, because amending or repealing laws requires the active involvement of these institutions. The Commission hopes that the other institutions will give priority to concluding an inter-institutional agreement on better regulation, including adapted procedures for simplification and codification.

The Commission will launch, within the next few days, a public consultation on the Communication at the following address :

Notes to editors:

The Lisbon European Council in 2000 called on the institutions and Member States to establish a coordinated strategy for simplifying and improving the regulatory environment. In 2001, the Commission proposed to reduce the existing quantity of EU law by at least 25 % by the end of 2004. The Commission's Action Plan on Better Regulation, published in June 2002, launched a series of measures, including one specific programme to review the body of existing law. The Commission also argued that there was a need for an inter-institutional agreement on several aspects of the Better Regulation Action Plan and proposed to conclude such an agreement before the end of 2002. This objective was endorsed by the European Council in Seville in June 2002 but not achieved. Negotiations are therefore now continuing with the objective of concluding in March 2003.

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