Friday, December 07, 2007

Single market review forgets better regulation principles

This recent single market review is interesting in many ways. We can see that the Commission is selling Europe to the citizen. And bashing banks is always popular, so we can see that happening now as well. Without awaiting the results of a consultation on a report (that finds no evidence base on the exisence of a switching problem) the Commission wishes switching services to improve. In doing so it jumps to conclusions and forgets it's own better regulation principles.

This is not the best way forward. Let's relook the earlier committments of Commissioner Mccreevy on this matter:
Ladies and Gentleman, this Commission is taking a more variable, more modern approach to regulation. Strict adherence to better regulation principles. Wide consultation. Full impact assessments to ensure that initiatives are fully thought through. Legislation only where clear benefits are apparent.
And let's now proceed to see the real-life case of user mobility in the retail financial services area.

1. In the white paper on financial services, the Commission set up an expert group to discuss user mobility.
2. After one years work, the group concluded that there was no evidence base and no agreement between different stakeholders on the issue: is there a problem or not.
3. Then, the commission sent out a (coloured) consultation on the report, which already had a spin on it; assuming that there was a user mobility problem. But, the positive news still was that the Commission claimed to adhere to better regulation:
In line with Better Regulation principles and as a follow-up to the Group's work, the Commission is opening a public consultation on the Group's report. Stakeholders are invited to comment by 1 September 2007. Comments should also address the impact of the Group's recommendations and suggest any other ways to improve customer mobility in relation to bank accounts.
4. To top it of however, without awaiting the results of the consultation, without doing any impact assessment whatsoever, the single market review heads for a specific direction (asking the industry to do national things on switching services) that should normally be the result of the analysis in the impact assessment.
5. Given that the results of this expert group do not at all come in handy (as it acknowledges the need for a solid evidence base), the work of the expert group is completely left unmentioned.
6. So now the Commission moves ahead, will undoubtedly publish a press release to take things a further step forward ('inviting the industry to come up with national solutions to switching') without due consideration to the real facts and developments in the market.

Interestingly: if the analysis is that switching is not a pan European issue, it's not up to the Commission to act. Similarly, if there is no impact assessment, it's not up to the Commission to do anything else than make one. But then again, the Commission seems to think: a scare tactic always seems to work with banks, so let's see if we can move them in a direction by threatening, even if we put aside our own principles and follow gut-feeling rather than facts and due process.

Unfortunately this fits nicely into an earlier grim picture that I sketched on the true better regulation approach of the Commission. Which essentially was that it is about lipservice more than true service to the citizens of the Community.