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EU announces a 'bonfire of the red tape'

In an unprecedented initiative, the Commission named a host of draft laws which it intended to scrap following a comprehensive review. The announcement reveals the extent to which the tide has turned in Brussels since the heyday of Jacques Delors.

The "bonfire of the directives" means the end of proposals covering everything from measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks to rules to improve the production and marketing of honey.

The European Industry Commissioner, Günter Verheugen, said he screened 183 Bills and ended up axing 68 of them, adding: "This is how we will be able to cut red tape and ensure we alleviate the burden on small and medium-sized enterprises, and the economy at large. Europe really means business. We all want better regulation and we all want better legislation."

Among the rules scrapped are those planned for online sales promotions, alcoholic drink labels and flight attendant qualifications. Others include rules on local lorry restrictions and coffee package sizes.

Behind the measure lies a political message from a Commission alarmed by its image. For years, critics attacked the bureaucracy in Brussels for meddling in what the former British foreign secretary Lord Hurd called the "nooks and crannies" of national life.

The European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said: "We have looked at everything on the table and cleared away what we don't need. EU regulation makes sense where it adds value. But where it doesn't, we'll scrap it."

Next month, the Commission, which drafts EU laws and ensures governments enact them, will start simplifying the 80,000 existing EU laws. Some overlapping laws will be brought together or repealed. The Commission is appealing to EU governments, businesses and citizens to help by identifying laws that amount to over-regulation, in a consultation exercise using the internet.

When he took office a year ago, Mr Barroso said that while drafting any legislation the Commission would consider the impact it would have on businesses and citizens.

Some Bills will be amended. A proposal designed to protect workers from optical radiation will no longer cover exposure to sunlight. There had been claims that it would force bricklayers to wear T-shirts and barmaids to cover up in beer gardens.

Moves to extend new rights to temporary workers will also be rethought. But the initiative, backed strongly by the British Government and welcomed by business, has alarmed European trade unions and prompted opposition from some MEPs. Monica Frassoni, a leading Green MEP, argued: "There may be certain directives that are not terribly important but there are other very significant political items here."

Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the UK's Conservative MEPs, said yesterday: "The door for reform is at last ajar, now we need to blast it wide open. What the EU needs urgently, if new jobs are to be created and the ever growing dole queues are to be cut, is a bold and sustained attack on existing legislation."

Measures to be withdrawn

* Amended directive on labelling, which would tighten rules on labelling of drinks with more than 1.2 per cent alcohol.

* Proposed directive on weekend bans for lorries, would have clarified rules on restrictions on key strategic routes across Europe.

* Proposed directive on safety, which would harmonise professional requirements for civil airline cabin crews.

* Proposed directive to standardise pack sizes for coffee.

* Proposed regulation to allow associations and foundations to operate across the EU.

* Proposed measure to improve honey production.