OPINION: Time to discuss Europe’s threat from within

Never mind Brexit there is something happening in Europe which is a greater threat to you and your environment – and you probably haven’t heard of it.

The word ‘deregulation’ has barely passed the lips of Jean-Claude Juncker during his time as President of the European Commission. But quietly and with little fanfare his administration has put in place and maintained a system that will have a chilling effect on efforts to protect people and our environment for years to come.

One of the crowning achievements of the European Union has been the development of shared rules and regulations that protect European citizens, their rights and where they live.

Central to the development of these protections was the value Europeans had for our common home and the respect and dignity of their fellow citizens.

Juncker’s administration not only abandoned these values but built the institutional architecture that will continue to undermine them for many years to come.

This is known in the Brussels bubble as the ‘Better Regulation Agenda’. Its name is such shameless spin that it almost perfectly describes the opposite of its true aim.

The aim of Better Regulation is deregulation. Plain and simple.

So what is deregulation?

Deregulation is about removing or weakening laws that businesses claim ‘get in the way’ of doing business. It is based on the ideological belief that markets know best and that what is good for business is good for wider society.

Deregulation ignores the reasons why regulations were introduced in the first place. Often these protections were hard won on the back of serious harm to people or the environment somewhere in Europe.

Protections for wildlife, the climate, workers, and citizens have all been recast as ‘burdens to business’ under the deregulation agenda.

Deregulation is out of touch with people

While businesses and special interest groups push for deregulation and politicians in Brussels follow suit, many studies show that this is working against the wishes of ordinary Europeans.

Successive Eurobarometer polling shows that the majority of Europeans believe that the EU is not doing enough to deal with problems like environmental protection or climate change.

Far from wanting to dismantle the protections that already exist they want to create a better balance to protect the environment and themselves.

It stands to reason that people want a fair playing field for everyone. What has made Europe great is the development of fair rules that apply to everyone. If we start to pull apart that system it allows companies or others to benefit at the expense of often the most vulnerable in our society.

By allowing some chemicals companies to bend or break rules it can lead to dangerous situations such as toxic chemicals finding their way into children’s toys.

Also by avoiding crucial action to avoid climate change we are risking the future of the next generation and handing them a much bigger problem to deal with.

This isn’t fair and most people accept that we need some rules for everyone to make sure we all do our bit.

Jean-Claude Juncker might be near the end of his time as President of the European Commission but if the architecture of deregulation stays in place it could have damaging repercussions in the years ahead.

To highlight the hidden problem of deregulation at the European level, the European Environmental Bureau and the New Economics Foundation are working together on a project to build civil society resistance to deregulation ahead of the European elections next May.

We want to persuade incoming MEPs that Europe’s path to the future should see the scrapping of its discredited deregulation drive.

It is society’s democratic right to make, and see enforced, rules that guarantee our basic freedoms are protected on how our economies work. We need to redefine what better regulation genuinely looks like: principled, and made in the interests of people, the planet, the voiceless, responsible business, and future generations.