THE BLOG
04/10/2013 11:49 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Curvy Cucumbers and High-Heeled Hairdressers Welcome in Brussels

The EU gets a lot of bad press in Britain for its perceived addiction to pointless and occasionally bizarre regulations. Who could forget the reports about straight bananas, fishermen's hairnets and a ban on topless builders? A lot of these stories have turned out to be Euromyths - or at the very least, exaggerations of the truth. A factual debate about our EU membership is clearly essential. So are common rules and sensible standards to make the EU Single Market work - Mrs Thatcher's great European legacy, lest we forget.

But at the same time, unnecessary rules are in no-one's interest, whether they're EU regulations or Whitehall gold-plating. Let's be clear: Ministers and MEPs (for it is they who decide on EU laws), as well as the European Commission (who proposes them) have sometimes got it wrong in the past.

That's why the Commission's latest initiative to row back on red tape is entirely in line with British priorities and should be welcomed with open arms. The EU's civil service has effectively screened the entire content of the EU statute book to look at what could be simplified, improved or simply removed. The result has been the repeal of 5,590 different legal acts in the past eight years as well as substantial simplifications. Overall, this translates into a cut of 26% in red tape for businesses.

One famous (or rather infamous) example is the standards which previously took curvy cucumbers off supermarket shelves. These rules have been scrapped completely and cucumbers can now be sold in any curvature which shoppers may desire.

The Commission has also made clear that it will not propose any new rules in a whole range of areas. While the health and safety of hairdressers is no doubt of the utmost importance, one can certainly question whether this is a matter for Europe. In fact, Brussels was asked expressly by hairdressers' employers and trade unions to propose minimum standards in this area, such as limits on wearing jewellery and high heels. However, the Commission has rightly said this would be better left to the national level and refused to make any such proposal.

At the end of the day, it's all a balancing act. As President Barroso has said, the EU needs to be "big on big things and smaller on small things." That means keeping out of areas best dealt with at national, regional or local level - but not being afraid to act where doing something at European level is more effective. With the latest bonfire of red tape, the EU is showing that it's getting the balance just about right.

Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England