Eurosceptic minister Priti Patel carps about the EU’s “vast reams of rules and regulations that stymie small businesses”. She says it is the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and multinationals, not smaller businesses, which have the lobbying clout in Europe. She says the UK is constantly outvoted and that we have no say over red tape.
Patel is wrong on all points and guilty of doing Britain down.
UK has influence and small business voice is heard
Since 1999, we have voted in favour of EU measures in the Council 2,474 times and against them just 57 times. In the other law-making body, the European Parliament, UK members are second only to the Germans in securing the most influential positions, such as drafting reports on new EU laws.
The UK’s Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) employs 2.2 full-time equivalent staff to lobby in Brussels and is a member of the European Small Business Alliance, which employs 6.5. That is indeed fewer than the 11.2 EU staff of the CBI, which represents both small and large firms. But the FSB’s voice is heard.
Only last week, the federation gave evidence to the European Parliament on the proposed US-EU trade deal. “The interests of small firms have become increasingly recognised in Brussels, not least through the influence of British politicians and business organisations,” Sarah Ludford, a former member of the European Parliament who now sits in the House of Lords, told InFacts. The European Commission has now committed to lighter regimes or exemptions for the smallest businesses and to dedicated provisions in all trade negotiations. The FSB has pointed to successes in carving out smaller companies from rules on electrical waste and accounting.
Patel says the prime minister fought to weed out unnecessary rules in his renegotiation, but the EU “said no”. In fact, the EU is committed to “cutting red tape for entrepreneurship”, in particular for smaller companies, and will set corresponding targets.
Patel says Britain’s “voice is simply not heard, not listened to” in Europe. Yet she cannot be unaware of the UK’s clout. One UK minister, referring to an EU employment plan, recently noted that the government had “worked closely with MEPs to influence the proposal and successfully protected and advanced our interests”. In case you can’t read the signature, it’s that of Priti Patel.
Patel abhors a vacuum
Patel cites rules on vacuum cleaner power, made under the EU’s ecodesign directive, as one example of red tape. When the directive was put to the vote in 2009, just 3 out of the UK’s 78 MEPs voted against.
The FSB says it supports the aims of these rules, but has complained of frequent revisions with short lead-in times. The ecodesign directive is forecast to save the equivalent of the annual primary consumption of Italy by 2020. Since the new rules took effect, giving a spur to innovation, “vacuum energy use dropped but dust pick-up hasn’t”, according to UK consumer magazine Which. The Commission says any new product regulations will be introduced only when there is “significant potential for economic gains both for producers and consumers”.
EU rules can unduly burden small businesses. But so can UK ones. We often unnecessarily gold plate EU law, as Patel herself appears to acknowledge. The niggles of EU regulations – and there are many – must be balanced against the benefit of trading with a large single market under one set of rules. Under Patel’s proposal, we would have scarcely any say in how those rules are set. While the FSB is formally neutral in the referendum debate, more of its members support staying in than leaving.
The reference to the UK MEP voting record on the ecodesign directive was added shortly after publication, and was subsequently corrected. Some UK MEPs did not vote either way on the ecodesign directive; and, prior to the 2009 European Parliament election, the UK had 78 MEPs.
Edited by Alan Wheatley