Reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation has for years been an unquestioned mantra within the European Union but until now no-one has done much about it. Now that the European Commission has drawn up the first real hit-list of proposals for axing or modification, the mantra has at last come under scrutiny. Belatedly, the obvious reality has emerged that not everyone shares the same definition of "unnecessary".

There will not be much dispute over scrapping proposals that have clearly been rendered redundant by the passage of time, or that are obvious duplications of rules already in force.

But sensitivities have immediately been jarred by some items on the list. Trade unions and members of the European Parliament have expressed fears that protection for temporary workers will be prejudiced if a planned directive is withdrawn or diluted just because it has been blocked since June 2003 by disagreements among member states.

Similarly, environmentalists and consumer organisations are alarmed at the prospect of weaker action on protection of international watercourses, improved labelling and advertising of foodstuffs, or professional standards for airline crews.

And where the rationale for withdrawal is the inability of member states to agree - such as harmonising weekend bans on heavy lorries - a more profound question arises...

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