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EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The Dutch EU presidency says it is determined to make a difference in Europe's fight against economic stagnation - although it is the umpteenth country to take on this seemingly impossible task.

Speaking on Wednesday (30 June), the day before The Hague takes over at the EU helm, Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, "I will do my utmost to convince all parties that Europe urgently needs reform".

To back up his case he used some examples.

"It is eleven times as hard to start up a new company in Europe as it is in the United States", he said adding that "in Japan the proportion of researchers in the working population is one and half times what it is in Europe".

One of the main elements of the Dutch Presidency's fight will be to cut over-regulation in Europe.

"Excess rules and a lot of red tape hold back Europe's business people", said Mr Balkenende.

Let's not be polite

Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm, using the example of this own country, said that administrative over-burden costs the economy 3.6% of GDP.

More than half of the regulation causing this comes from Europe, he said.

Mr Zalm said that all three EU institutions, the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, are happy to make regulations but do not consider the costs.

He suggested that in the new Commission, which starts in November, there should be someone responsible for the issue.

Countering the argument that the Dutch will - like the Irish and others before them - fail to make any real headway on the EU's goal to make Europe the most dynamic economy in the world by 2010 (known as the Lisbon process), their Europe minister said "we want to concentrate on some specific issues".

"The problem is the implementation", acknowledged Dutch Europe minister Atzo Nicolaï. He praised the idea of naming and shaming member states for dragging their feet on implementing crucial bits of EU legislation and said it could go a bit further.

"We don't have to be polite to each other".

They are hoping that an important report on the Lisbon process by former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, to be published in November, will give impetus to the discussion.

Mr Nicolaï said they are looking for "new instruments and new ways to deal with [the problem]".

However, the fight remains difficult. The European Commission admitted partial defeat in June by saying that it would miss its target of cutting the vast body of EU legislation by 25% before the end of this year.


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