Better Regulation agenda must further EU environmental goals, not stifle them

Posted on 26 April 2021

WWF is calling on the European Commission to abandon the proposed 'one in, one out' approach to law-making.
What’s happening?

On 27 April, the European Commission will publish a Communication on ‘Better Regulation’, as part of its revamped ‘Better Regulation Agenda’ under the leadership of Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič. 

The Communication is expected to contain measures to simplify public consultations, and also introduce a ‘one in, one out’ approach to EU law-making, which aims at ensuring that “every legislative proposal creating new burdens should relieve people and businesses of an equivalent existing burden at EU level in the same policy area,” as President Von der Leyen had put it at the beginning of her term.

Why does it matter?

Environmental rules and standards are essential to protecting people and planet, and to fostering wellbeing. They are crucial to addressing issues that concern Europeans the most, such as halting the climate and sanitary crises, improving people’s health and preserving the environment and nature.

The EU’s ‘Better Regulation’ agenda sets out the processes the Commission follows for assessing impacts, consulting citizens and stakeholders, and ensuring coherence when designing new policies and evaluating the application of existing laws. What the ‘Better Regulation’ rules prioritise impacts the shape and ambition of the Commission’s proposals'  – for example, the Better Regulation rules could decide to prioritise and assess whether a policy makes it easier or on the contrary hinders reaching climate neutrality by 2050.
In the European Green Deal, the Commission committed to introduce a ‘green oath’ in the Better Regulation rules to ensure that all EU initiatives ‘do no harm’ and pull together to help the EU achieve a successful and just transition towards a sustainable future.

The envisaged narrow focus on burden and cost reduction put forward with the ‘one in, one out’ approach is therefore inconsistent with the needs and realities of EU policy making. It could jeopardise the Commission’s responsibility to deliver quality regulation, create a chilling effect on any new environmental legislation, and risk pre-empting the democratic debate or reducing the legislative discretion of the Council and Parliament.

WWF has long contested this approach, since it implies a mechanical method of law-making based on quantitative reduction targets, assessing legislation as a short-term burden and a cost rather than focussing objectively on the quality of regulation and its merits. In fact, analyses by the European Commission and others have repeatedly demonstrated that environmental legislation does not create unnecessary administrative burden.

What does WWF want?

WWF is calling for the Commission to deliver on its commitment in the European Green Deal to ensure all EU policies contribute towards a sustainable and climate neutral future.  

For this, Sustainable Development objectives should be mainstreamed at all stages of the policy life-cycle, from the inception of the policy through to its adoption and review, through a Think Sustainability First’ approach that equally considers impacts across all dimensions of sustainable development - environmental, social and economic - and delivers on the ‘do no harm’ commitment from the European Green Deal.

The ‘Better Regulation’ rules should also ensure that there is consistency among policies towards achieving sustainable development, to avoid that progress and good legislation in one area is undermined by harmful policies and incentives in others.

Impact assessments for new policies and initiatives should be based on the latest scientific data and evidence and aligned with the EU’s high level political priorities – namely, the European Green Deal and the achievement of a climate neutral Europe by 2050 at the latest. 

The ‘one in, one out’ approach should be abandoned, in order to avoid any arbitrary cuts or slow-downs in areas where increased ambition is desperately needed, such as the European Green Deal.

Furthermore, public consultations must allow for science-based answers, be balanced and transparent, and the stakeholders’ views which are taken into account should be clearly reported on by the Commission.


“The Commission had made the ‘do no harm’ approach the centerpiece of the European Green Deal, promising that all EU actions and policies should pull together to put us firmly on the path of a sustainable future - and yet, almost 18 months later, we have yet to see this put into practice,” said Rebecca Humphries, Senior Public Affairs Officer, WWF European Policy Office, and a member of the Commission's Fit for Future Platform. “At a time when we need to pull out all the stops to halt the biodiversity and climate crises, the right tools to deliver science-based policies need to be developed. A ‘think sustainability first’ approach would help achieve that. “Instead, the Commission is prioritising 'one in, one out', with no demonstrated benefits to people and planet of this approach.”


Over the past two decades, a growing number of efforts to institutionalise burden and cost reduction as a self-standing goal has been introduced by the Commission, notably the ‘Better Regulation Agenda’, the Regulatory Scrutiny Board, the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), the Refit Platform and its revamped Fit for Future Platform, including a ‘strategic foresight’ dimension.

The ‘One in, one out’ approach did not feature in the Commission’s Political Guidelines nor Presiden von der Leyen’s speech to the European Parliament on the day of her election in July 2019. Only afterwards, this new feature was mainstreamed in all mission letters to the Commissioners and added to the Working Methods of the new Commission published in December 2019.

‘One in, one out’ had already been considered and dismissed by the Juncker Commission, which had deemed it inappropriate for EU law making for lack of justification and evidence. The Commission recognised in its stocktaking exercise on Better Regulation in 2019 that upfront reduction targets were not effective and run counter to Better Regulation principles. It stated that “it is essential that a political decision on which costs are legitimate to achieve policy goals and which instead should be eliminated is based on evidence from a case-to-case assessment”.

By way of example, the Commission has adopted more than 1440 measures in response COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. The current crisis demonstrates the clear added value of quality regulation in the general interest.