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Health & Safety

Lofstedt 6 – The EU

Chapter 6 of the Lofstedt report is all about better engagement with the EU. In view of the UK’s latest brushes with EU leaders over the common currency and financial regulation, this may not work. I know technically the UK has quite a say in the running of the EU. But in reality, its workings rely on co-operation and compromise.

Much of UK legislation originates from the EU. This is true of every member state too. That means that there is not that much room for the UK unilaterally modifying it. Yes, there is often some scope (more so with directives), but not much in terms of substance. It is therefore better to make it fit for purpose from the start. In real terms, that will always be a difficult one – because the application is EU wide, so there will always be some compromise (and perhaps quite divergent ideas about how best to do something).

We live in separatist times. Centralisation has given way to the desire for local government, even with its increased costs. But there is no doubt that EU membership has its benefits too. Not least, the harmonisation and removal of barriers to trade – two of the main purposes of the EU’s existence.

It is noted that EU legislation can be somewhat prescriptive. This is not all bad because of the greater clarity it can give to those who have little time to interpret its meaning. It is also noted that some EU legislation has questionable benefits compared to its implementation costs. Financial considerations are not usually the only considerations. But what comes in for a sound beating is something that should never have been brought in in the first place – those eye and eyesight tests that employers have to pay for for ‘regular’ computer users. These are generally regarded as an unjustifiable burden. Similar costs far outweighing benefits arguments can be made for legislation on artificial optical radiation. Which had zero impact, because the risks and controls were well known and already implemented.

But the point is that we can’t change these so easily. Instead, the process for evaluating costs and benefits (i.e. impact assessments) should be more robust at EU level. It should be risk and evidence-based.