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Evans: The anti-business culture in Europe

Speech to the BCC Conference in London

"The forthcoming European Elections are crucial for the country and for the business community in particular. The impact of the EU on business is clear for all to see, much of it harmful in terms of regulation and costs on business.

The Single Market has clearly had substantial benefits for British business, and we take pride that it was a Conservative Government that took the lead in establishing it. We know, however, that it still has some way to go particularly in terms of liberalisation of the utilities, and Conservative MEPs are in the forefront of the drive to achieve more liberal markets.

As the largest UK political force in the European Parliament and the second largest national delegation of MEPs in Brussels, I believe we have exercised a great deal of influence in trying to reshape the business agenda in Europe. It is not an easy task. The European Socialist Group, which includes British Labour MEPs, seems to have been on a mission to shackle business with new and damaging regulations that have undermine competitiveness. The list of directives to which they have signed up is a long one. The Working Time Directive, the Part-Time Workers Directive, the Temporary Workers Directive, the Compulsory Information and Consultation Procedures Directive - and many more. Much of this stems from the Government's decision to end the UK's Social Chapter opt out.

There is an anti-business culture within the Labour MEP group. For all the business-friendly rhetoric of the Government, both they and Labour MEPs have driven through massive new costs on business at home and through EU legislation. Not to mention the hike in taxes they promised would not happen on their watch.

I think British business has good reason to feel let down by Labour. They pay lip service to the Lisbon agenda of labour market reform and greater competitiveness. But, the reality is that they seem more determined to introduce the kind of anti-business culture that is holding so much of the rest of Europe back.

The Conservative Party and Conservative MEPs are fully committed to making British business more competitive. We have demonstrated that in the pro-business agenda we have pursued over the past five years. And, in the next Parliament, we will continue to advance the cause of making Europe a more business-friendly environment while at the same time seeking to protect British business from the twin-headed monsters of regulation and gold plating.

We warmly welcome the work that you have been doing on measuring the costs of intrusive regulation. Your latest work on gold plating is especially timely, and reinforces the work we have been doing to change the regulatory culture inside the European institutions.

We are also delighted that you have published your 'Business Priorities for Europe' ahead of the European Elections, and taken the trouble to send Isabella Moore as a persuasive ambassador to the Parliament in Strasbourg last month to launch them. At election times, much more attention should be focused on the record of political parties in delivering business-friendly policies.

We have nothing to fear from this exposure. Indeed, we are very much in agreement with your top three priorities - labour market flexibility, better regulation and completing the Single Market. The ten-point action plan we published earlier this year has all those ingredients and more.

We have pressed for thorough regulatory impact assessments of new legislative proposals, and a scheme of regulatory impact assessments has been proposed. This is a significant Conservative achievement in Europe over the past five years. In 1999, impact assessments were seen as an optional extra or an inconvenience. Now, following a campaign led by Conservative MEPs and our allies, an Inter-Institutional Agreement has made them mandatory. The next challenge is to monitor implementation of the new requirement, to ensure that impact assessments are rigorous and carried out independently of the officials who drafted the legislation.

We have also supported the aim of rolling back 25% of all existing EU regulations and sought to introduce "sunset clauses" for all new regulations. Conservative MEPs have actively promoted procedures that require the European Commission to consider alternatives to legislation and encourage the adoption of less bureaucratic self-regulatory methods.

These are important reforms that we need to see. Europe has not moved forward with the Lisbon process. In fact, things have got worse. Even the European Commission admits that we are as far away as ever from realising the Lisbon goal of making the EU the most dynamic and competitive economy in the world by 2010.

Ahead of the Spring Summit this year, we published a ten-point action plan which sets out our policy objectives and calls on EU governments to take forward this agenda without delay.

1. The Lisbon goals can only be achieved through speeding up market liberalisation.

2. To place the EU's competitiveness at the heart of policy making in Brussels and in national capitals, together with an acceptance that social and environmental goals cannot be achieved without dynamic, flexible and successful economies.

3. To make the completion of the internal market, particularly in services, the top economic and political priority of governments across the EU.

4. To argue that enhanced job creation demands more flexible labour markets.

5. To complete the liberalisation of the electronic communications and energy sectors without delay.

6. To endorse vigorously the regulatory reform agenda.

7. To push through the remaining measures that create a single market for financial services.

8. To support the global trade liberalisation agenda, and to promote the completion of the Transatlantic market by 2015, with the priority of achieving market opening in financial services, e-commerce and aviation by 2010.

9. To encourage entrepreneurship, particularly b y reducing tax burdens, removing unnecessary administrative hurdles and developing workforce skills.

10. To introduce the new Public Procurement Procedures as quickly as possible.

I believe that by adopting this far-reaching agenda for reform, Europe can start to reverse the years of relative economic decline. The Government is failing to deliver on these matters. Labour MEPs are actively seeking to turn the clock back in Britain by adopting legislation that undermines our competitiveness as a nation - and all in the name of European integration.

In politics, the test of a party is not the rhetoric delivered at party conferences. Rather, it is by their actions that they should be judged. I believe firmly that Conservative MEPs have delivered for British business and British jobs. We have fought for the national interest every step of the way. I look forward to continuing the constructive partnership with British business we have established these past five years as we move into a new Parliament, and to doing so with an even larger number of MEPs following the elections on the 10th of June."

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