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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 18 febbraio 2014 alle ore 15:53.


WARSAW – Over the past 60 years, the project of European integration has confronted many challenges: post-war economic hardships, the heavy yoke of communism, and the uncertain footing of the post-Cold War world. But, while it has overcome them all, with the European Union now comprising 28 states, many of which now share a common currency, the EU faces another, equally important challenge – that of reducing the burden of regulation weighing down its major industries.

European business is bound up in rules and regulations, many of which originate from unelected officials in Brussels, whose laudable intention to harmonize business conditions across the EU is instead sapping the continent’s commercial creativity and dynamism. As a result, economic performance has become sluggish as competitiveness declines and unemployment, especially among young people, remains stubbornly high.

EU institutions issue thousands of regulations, directives, and decisions every year. In 2012, 1,799 laws were enacted; in 2011, there were 2,062. Some laws, enacted long ago for a European Community of six founding members, are still on the books. It is this thicket of red tape that hampers business and deters entrepreneurs.

One small but important example of this is the average cost of setting up a business, which is Ђ158 ($212) in Canada, Ђ664 in the US, and Ђ2,285 in the EU (and as much as Ђ4,141 in Italy). The sheer cost of getting started is as big a deterrent as one can imagine for a young entrepreneur trying to escape the bounds of unemployment.

European industry is afflicted by similar problems. The refining and petrochemical sector supplies the EU with a large proportion of its fuel, and is also a major source of tax revenue. The downstream sector, together with fuels distribution, contributes a total of around Ђ240 billion annually to treasury coffers. By any reckoning, this is an important industry that should not suffer from overregulation. But, while the industry faces the threat of inflated gas prices from around the world, its concerns closer to home are the abundance of EU and national energy regulations.

Excessive law-making has pushed up prices and pushed out investors, not only from refining and petrochemicals, but from all energy-intensive sectors, including aluminum, steel, and cement. In some EU states, electricity prices for industrial customers are twice what their North American counterparts pay. Overly complex climate regulations, political resistance to shale-gas development, and energy policies that favor expensive, ineffective technologies are largely to blame.

Some policymakers in Brussels are gradually beginning to recognize that lower energy prices might be good for the economy. But most still believe that protecting society and the environment from the wider effects of the energy business should take priority over the industry’s development and broader economic growth. They assume that robust recovery and job creation will emerge simply of their own accord; as a result, rather than enjoying sustainable growth, Europe is heading toward a model for which a new term – sustainable stagnation – might be appropriate.

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