They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
So Brexiteers who have been banging on about European over-regulation for years will be delighted at the Damascene call from France’s President Macron for a “European regulatory pause” – particularly it seems for green regulation.
Sounding like someone else, he was quoted in London’s Daily Telegraph as explaining: “We have already passed a lot of regulations at the European level, more than our neighbours… Now we have to execute, not make new rule changes, because otherwise we will lose all the players.”
Was he, perhaps, inspired by British PM Rishi Sunak’s cross-channel regulatory pause?
Sunak has put the brakes on his deregulatory promise to review (and where necessary repeal or amend) the entire body of inherited European Union law by the end of the year – leaving the unfortunate impression that neither his ministers nor his officials were up to the admittedly-demanding task.
It affords the amusing sight of Macron and Sunak both arguing from opposite premises for doing nothing in order to reach the same – temporary – destination.
Which could morph into hilarity; should Macron steal a march by using the EU’s helpfully-undemocratic procedures to fudge its costly net-zero commitments; while Sunak is trapped by British legalism in implementing Boris Johnson’s clumsy climate legislation.
And don’t rule out complete absurdity. If Europe backslides, then one of the first acts of Labour’s Keir Starmer as incoming PM would surely be to slither with them, “bras dessus, bras dessous” in Churchill’s words. It would certainly be a convenient way of dodging his own ambitious promise to make the UK a “clean energy superpower” by stripping fossil fuels from electricity generation within six years.
If you think that this smacks of confusion, desperation even, you might well be right.
Luckily the folks over at Eurointelligence can apply a dose of Adam Smith with Cartesian rigour.
They see British regulatory divergence from Europe as inevitable (although they are a little more relaxed than is your correspondent with regard to the timeframe and the ability of the political and administrative classes to make the right decisions).
Their blog post (optimistically entitled ‘Sunrise’) argues that Britain’s slower timetable for dealing with its European regulatory legacy:
“is now going hand-in-hand with another initiative that is running in parallel: the pro-innovation regulation of technologies review, led by Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser. The review is finally doing what we had urged the UK government to do right after Brexit, which is spot high-tech opportunities the EU is missing. Artificial intelligence is an obvious one, as is medical research and many other tech developments held back by the EU’s antediluvian data protection regulation. On high-tech industries, the EU has entered a regulatory death spiral, focused entirely on consumers since the EU companies no longer have skin in the game.”
Death spiral doesn’t sound good. And they go on:
“We don’t see the UK so much as a threat to the EU in the way Emmanuel Macron and Michel Barnier had imagined, through low-wage sweatshops. The UK will simply exploit areas the EU has left to others. We don’t see any reason why that should impede on the mutual relationship, except that the narrative of Brexit as an inevitable economic disaster is unlikely to hold up. When BioNTech moves its cancer research from Germany to the UK, that should act as a warning sign for the EU.
We expect the UK’s shift in technology focus and regulations to persist under a Labour government. On the contrary, Labour will reap the benefits from what now appears the start of a post-Brexit strategy. Once you have spotted opportunities for investment and drawn in investors, you are not going to reverse to a status-quo ante.”
There is a reminder here that grandiose promises to transform a perhaps-small country’s limited endowments, to “exploit areas … left to others” are often undeliverable. Letting your own productive people make the most of what they have got without getting in the way is hard enough, particularly when you’ve got a shoal of shibboleths to implement.
One also fears that a regulatory pause – even with France’s superb “exécution” – is unlikely to arrest a death spiral.
Was there more irony than optimism in the ‘Sunrise’ ?