Sunday, November 22, 2009

Defending the regulators - a bureaucrat breaks cover...

We did lose one vote during the debate on the theme resolution at the ELDR Congress, 'Liberal Answers For A New Prosperity', ironically on an amendment to an otherwise perfectly acceptable clause. A late proposal to call for a 25 per cent reduction in the administrative burdens for business by 2014, compared with their current level, set this bureaucrat's antennae twitching. What did it mean? A 25% reduction in the number of regulations? A 25% reduction in the administrative impact of regulations? Indeed, where did the figure of 25% come from at all?

Having spotted it, and argued against it in the working group, I then found myself supported by the delegation and given the freedom to speak in the debate itself. And this is what I said...

"Congress, I have a confession to make. I am a bureaucrat. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Regulation is not simply a burden, it is a balance. We regulate to advance our social agenda, to advance our economic agenda, to advance our environmental agenda. We balance the financial impact of that regulation against its benefits. Therefore, whilst Liberal Democrats support the principle of reducing the administrative burden, we believe that Europe and the member states need a scalpal, not a chainsaw, when attacking excessive bureaucracy.

The reduction sought of 25% has no basis, no precision. It does not indicate whether we wish to reduce the number of regulations by 25%, or the resource impact of regulation by 25%. It is, in short, a pretty soundbite, not a considered policy.

I therefore urge Congress to support the removal of the arbitrary figure from the resolution. Fellow liberals, let us be surgeons, not butchers."

It was, I believe, a fairly well-received intervention. Unfortunately, by a vote of eighty-nine votes to seventy-six, it turned out not to be quite well-received enough. Ah well, the point was made, and perhaps some of those so enthusiastic to slash regulation will remember my words when they discover just how difficult it is to carry out a balanced agenda without some, if not all, of our existing regulatory framework.

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