Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

‘Better regulation’ or a gangmaster’s dream?


Of all Cameron’s requests his call for regulatory reform has been one of the most specific, yet it has received little scrutiny outside the trade union movement.

Indeed, of all the thousands of comments on the CBI’s call to promote EU membership published in the Guardian last week, it was difficult to spot any focused on Cameron’s right-wing spin on what in EU jargon is known as the ‘better regulation agenda’.

In a rare example of Cameron providing meat on the bones for his calls for EU reform, in a recent blog on the professional networking site LinkedIn, he commended the EU for taking on board many of the ‘UK’s recommendations’, as he put it, particularly those from the former Coalition government’s better regulation ‘task force’.

Some of what both the EU and Cameron’s ‘task force’ are asking for is common sense: regulation which is effective, proportionate, evidence-based and good for business. Scratch below the surface though, and it’s clear Cameron is using the UK’s name in vain to push an extreme right-wing agenda.

We can see this, first, in the difference between what Cameron’s task force pushed for, and what the EU has announced. The man leading the EU on this issue, Frans Timmermans, has made clear that “[b]etter regulation is not about… undermining our high social and environmental standards, our health or our fundamental rights”. No such assurance from Cameron, who seems to want to junk the very parts of the EU that British people tend to like: consumer protections, rights at work and environmental standards.

Timmermans also rejected any kind of quantitative target for reducing regulation, taking a different approach to Cameron who has pushed for the so-called ‘one-in-one-out’ approach to apply across the EU. In broad terms, ‘one-in-one-out’ suggests that a new rule should only be applied to a company if regulators can find a way to cut the cost involved for that company complying with existing rules.

This is manifestly silly (something recognised by many businesspeople I’ve spoken to), because the costs – and benefits – of regulation accrue to different people. It would cut the ‘costs of compliance’ if manufacturers didn’t have to apply emissions standards to new cars – but the public and NHS would pay the price from reduced air quality. Would it really be right to stop new standards for one kind of dangerous air particle, because the costs of reducing emissions of another dangerous particle couldn’t be brought down? This is not ‘better regulation'; it’s an ideological rejection of regulation.

Finally, Cameron and his task force have, unlike the EU, been specific about what they want junked, although less keen to spell out the implications of this to the British public.

So, they’ve called for tightening up of the Posted Workers Directive to be abandoned, in line with their previous secret lobbying to water it down in Brussels. The Posted Workers Directive provides standards for foreign workers ‘posted to’ (i.e. working temporarily in) other countries. In theory (if not yet in practice due to various loopholes), this would stop British workers being undercut by lower-paid workers from abroad. So much for the Conservatives’ crocodile tears for low-paid workers affected by competition from the rest of the EU.

Cameron and his task force have also called for the Working Time Directive to be made more ‘flexible’ for ‘on-call’ workers – try explaining that to someone who provides social care, already often under terrible conditions. And they want the Agency Workers Directive to give ‘greater flexibility for individual employers and workers to reach their own arrangements'; in other words, you can forget your rights or forget getting a new job.

The process of renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU will be a long and complex one, and if Cameron heeds some of the sensible calls currently being made for intelligent reforms, it could yield benefits. Cameron must not, however, dress up his extreme ideological position as the ‘British view’ – it most certainly is not the view of most working people in this country.

This post is adapted from a article on LabourList: click here for the original article.

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