Commentary Magazine


Business at the EU

To the Editor:

Congratulations to Irwin Stelzer for his superb piece, “Is Europe a Threat?” [October 2001]. I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment of the situation in Europe at the moment and the dangers for American companies. Since 1990, 3,500 new EU “directives” have been issued by Brussels each year, and this tide of regulation shows no sign of being reversed. Businesses are now told, for example, how their employees should climb ladders, and a “vibrations directive” restricts the number of hours a farmer may sit on his tractor. Another recent regulation on workplace discrimination shifts the burden to employers to prove their innocence if brought to court.

Though the actual number of new pieces of EU legislation has fallen since 1990, the regulations being imposed are much broader, requiring no fewer than 400,000 British civil servants to implement them in the United Kingdom alone. Worse, British regulators often “gold-plate” this legislation, interpreting it more strictly than was intended by the EU and thus making the burden on business even greater. If the last two decades are any indication, the European regulatory environment seems certain to become more difficult for American business as the EU looks to expand into Eastern Europe in the years ahead.

John Grimley
London, England

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Irwin Stelzer writes:

John Grimley is kind to make a few points that I missed. It is true that the British authorities tend to “gold-plate” EU regulations, which means that they try to make a real effort to enforce them, something that their creators on the Continent rarely do. One Italian diplomat told me that his country views EU regulations as “purely theoretical” and hence easily ignored if circumstances require. The British, more accustomed to the rule of law, have no such escape hatch available.

But Mr. Grimley may have missed one cheery possibility. Instead of the regulatory environment becoming “more difficult for American business” as the EU expands, it may collapse of its own weight, and become so clearly unenforceable in those diverse economies as to demand major reform. Not likely, but possible.

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