Brexit benefit of EU’s plans for red-tape cutting digital portal

31 January 2017 9:57am

21 July 2016. By Magnus Franklin.

Just weeks after the UK’s vote to leave the EU following a campaign promoting tougher migration controls, EU officials have unveiled plans in the opposite direction: to make the movement of labor in the bloc even simpler.

The European Commission’s idea is to create an ambitious digital portal containing all the information a business needs to trade in another EU country, and reducing the administrative “red tape” involved.

It is a project that the UK would have championed before Brexit, and may well end up benefiting Britain once it is outside the EU.

The Single Digital Gateway, as the portal has been dubbed, “should contribute to a higher level of free movement of persons, particularly workers and students, thereby contributing to a more efficient allocation of labor across the EU,” says a planning document known as a “roadmap” for the proposal.

The roadmap was unveiled this week, setting out an ambitious plan to amalgamate a heterogeneous and disparate group of initiatives to improve cross-border trade.

Over the years, various laws linked to the EU’s “single market” have set up systems of “single contact points,” “one-stop shops,” “mutual recognition” and a handful of other euphemisms.

But there is no overarching “internal market” portal that combines all these efforts to erase borders. As a result, all these well-meaning efforts get buried, and their benefits lost.

Creating such a system may seem daunting. However, the commission can point to a rich collection of reports, petitions and surveys that suggest a single “one-stop shop” for all types of cross-border matters would make a big difference both for companies trading in other EU countries, and for a labor force aiming to make the most of the free movement of people in the bloc.

— Myriad benefits —

The plan was first mooted in the new EU digital single-market strategy in May 2015. European business ministers backed the proposal on Feb. 29, but no detailed information has been made public.

The roadmap points to an array of options of varying levels of ambition, cost and benefit, but the tone of the paper makes clear that maintaining the status quo isn’t going to be the preferred option.

And while the benefits of the initiative haven’t yet been quantified, the paper mentions “considerable” cuts in administrative transaction costs, less time spent on finding information about doing business across the EU, better knowledge of rights and responsibilities among businesses and citizens, and less wasted paper as administrative procedures can be done online.

The commission intends to open up the plan for public feedback later this year, but there is no specific timetable for when it would be implemented.

For the UK, which will exit the EU as the digital portal is being developed, the proposal will be bittersweet. On one hand, the UK has long championed more efficient bureaucracy, less red tape and better use of digital technologies in public administration. On the other, the proposal aims to improve labor mobility — the lynchpin on which the campaign to leave the bloc focused.

But the UK could end up reaping rewards from the portal even after it has left the EU.

“Businesses from third countries looking for online information on EU member states’ rules and requirements will benefit from increased online provision of information to the same degree as EU businesses,” the planning document says. “This may contribute to an increase in exports (of products compliant with EU and national rules) to the EU market as well as more investment.”

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