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Brussels to pare back EU regulation to quell criticism

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will review EU laws and be careful when writing new ones, the EU’s executive said on Wednesday, in an effort to answer intensifying criticism of what many in member states see as overregulation by Brussels.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso answers members of the European Parliament remarks at the end of a debate on the state of union, in Strasbourg, September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

In countries such as Britain critics have pilloried the Commission for European Union rules such as one preventing drinkmakers from claiming that water can treat dehydration.

Brussels recently had to drop plans that would have forced restaurants to serve oil in sealed bottles instead of glass jugs or dipping bowls.

The Commission’s move marks a change of tone at a body that proposes laws for the 28 countries in the bloc but which has had to contend with mistrust of its work as the financial crisis has flared and the economy deteriorated.

“Not everything that is good is good at European level,” said Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission’s president.

“Let’s think twice whether, when and where we need to act at European level,” he said, launching the initiative to review EU law for possible simplification and drop contested proposals such as health and safety rules for hairdressers.

The number of Europeans who distrust the European Union has doubled over the past six years to a record high.

In a recent poll, 60 percent of Europeans “tended not to trust the EU” compared to the 32 percent level of distrust in early 2007 before the onset of the global financial crisis.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised an EU membership referendum if he is re-elected in 2015. In the meantime, Britain is seeking to reshape its ties with the EU.

Summing up this mood, Nigel Farage, an EU lawmaker who leads the euro-sceptic UK Independence Party, said: “The Commission exerts power by hyper-regulation, it wants to regulate in more areas of everyday life not less.”

This scepticism has long since spread throughout Europe. In recent German elections, a new anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany, narrowly failed to make it into the Bundestag (lower house of parliament).

The Dutch government has also called for a “more modest, more sober but more effective” European Union, with foreign minister Frans Timmermans warning that “the time for an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us”.

European Parliament elections in May are expected to deliver strong gains for eurosceptic parties.

“One driving force of British euroscepticism is the belief that the Commission is a regulatory machine that has run out of control,” said Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank. “Any further initiatives to cut red tape ... may help to alleviate eurosceptic concerns in the UK a little.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich