The competitiveness council backed a Commission proposal on 18 February 2007 to slash administrative burdens in existing EU regulations by 25% over five years, but refused to set a similar target at national level.
Administrative burdens imposed by governments (in the form of paperwork and statistical obligations) amount to around 3.5% of EU GDP, according to Commission estimates.
In November 2006, Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen proposed setting a legally binding target for cutting such administrative costs by 25%, saying that this could produce a €150 billion boost to the European economy (EurActiv 16/11/06).
The aim is to give fresh impetus to efforts to simplify and improve the EU regulatory environment.
Although the 27 ministers in charge of competitiveness backed the Commission's proposed goal of cutting Community red tape by 25% before 2012, the idea of setting binding targets at national level was discarded.
Despite widespread support from front runners, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, which have already embarked on ambitious schemes to simplify their business regulation, other member states remained reluctant to commit to such an ambitious target for their national rules.
They pointed to the high costs of measuring the burdens related to existing and new regulations and to the difficulties of defining criteria for cutting administrative burdens.
Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen argued in favour of introducing national goals, saying: "According to studies, 50-60% of administrative burdens stem from national legislation. It therefore seems absolutely essential to act at both Community and national levels.”
However, as member states expressed their doubts about a binding national target, he appeared to soften his stance, saying: "There will be states where the 25% cut is feasible and in others it won't be. It's not a legal obligation. It's a commitment to a joint political target which every single member state is encouraged to go for."
"The 25% target is an ambitious target, but I think its feasible," said the Dutch minister, adding that these targets must be met and that governments must not simply shift burdens from one area to another.
However, Spanish Minister Alberto Navarro was more guarded : "We should tread rather more cautiously on the national level, because in Spain we are only beginning this exercise," he said, underlining the additional difficulties for countries such as Spain, Germany and Belgium, where regions and communities also have the power to legislate.
Estonian minister Edgar Savisaar added : "Estonia is not willing to approve the same national targets for all member states...because the starting points - legal systems, the development of the legal framework - are too different...It's important for member states to keep the right to set targets based on their own situation."
BusinessEurope urged EU institutions and member states to "endorse proposals to measure administrative costs and strive for a 25% reduction in administrative burdens by 2012 while agreeing immediate actions and setting yearly interim targets to monitor progress".