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REFIT Programme launched: Another deregulatory milestone?

In October 2013, the Commission issued a Communication on Regulatory Fitness and Performance, also known as REFIT. With a view to identifying burdens, gaps, and inefficient or ineffective measures, the REFIT programme aims to systematically map and screen the entire body of EU legislation, including both legislation in force as well as legislation which is in the pipeline. In this Communication, the Commission lays out where it sees its successes so far in simplifying EU legislation. Against this background, the Communication goes on to identify specific legislative proposals or provisions that it intends to repeal, withdraw, postpone, evaluate, or newly propose. Amongst the very wide range of legislative areas addressed are EU legislation on information and consultation, as well as company law, health and safety and working time.

In a press statement deploring the crippling effect of the REFIT programme on workers’ rights, labour standards, and the European Social Dialogue, ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol said: “The internal market is only acceptable if implemented with strong social rules. The Commission’s REFIT programme is blocking all progress in that direction.”

The REFIT programme is part of the Smart Regulation approach, which also includes consultation of the stakeholders, impact assessments, and specific monitoring schemes. In addition to its comprehensive scope, the REFIT is a rolling programme, whose legislative mapping and screening exercises will be updated annually. The REFIT is the latest incarnation of a (de)regulatory approach first embarked upon with the so-called “SLIM Agenda” on simpler legislation for the internal market in 1996, followed by the Better Lawmaking approach launched in 2002, the Better Regulation agenda of 2007, and the Smart Regulation agenda pursued from 2009 onwards, through to the most recent approach piloted from 2010 onwards: the Fitness Check.

It should be noted that the catalogue of items to be shelved, evaluated or proposed encompasses a staggering range of legislation, reaching from agriculture, energy, home affairs, and mobility to employment and taxation. So what lies in store with regard to the issues of particular interest to the readers of the Workers’ Participation News Bulletin?

Most prominently, three pieces of workers’ participation legislation are directly targeted; the 1998 collective redundancies Directive, the 2001 transfers of undertakings Directive, and the 2002 Framework Directive on information and consultation of workers. In the REFIT, they are announced as candidates for amendment and possible consolidation; this process will draw upon the results of the recently concluded Fitness Check. Furthermore, due to its subject matter, the proposed amendment and consolidation of this legislation will of course also be subject to social partner consultations.

In the area of company law, the proposal for a statute for a European private company will be withdrawn; at the same time, however, the Commission announced that it is still considering putting forward a new proposal. Indeed, the recent consultation on single member limited liability companies was designed in part to measure support for alternatives to the European private company.

Furthermore, as already indicated in the Commission’s 2012 Action Plan on company law and corporate governance, a codification is foreseen for eight company law Directives, such as the Directives on cross-border mergers, the division of public limited liability companies, and single member companies -- to name a few which have at least some implications in the area of worker participation.

Finally the REFIT process also sets its sights on a major evaluation of the entire legislative body on health and safety at work, as well as the specific legislation on temporary agency work, data protection, and working time. It is to be feared that the REFIT programme for 2013 and 2014 will permanently undermine workers’ employment rights in Europe; the declared objective may be to reduce the administrative and financial burdens that these laws allegedly impose on small and medium-sized firms, but this deregulation effectively rolls back minimum fundamental rights for many workers in Europe.

The Commission Communication on the REFIT can be downloaded here.

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