The Optical Radiation/Sunshine Directive was just the kind of regulation that for many Europeans has made a laughingstock of the European Union's bulky bureaucracy.
The measure was intended to create E.U.-wide rules governing the exposure of employees to cancer-causing sun rays, a serious workplace hazard, its supporters said. But opponents quickly labeled it the "tan ban" and said it would require Bavarian barmaids to wear less revealing blouses and prevent British construction workers from stripping off their shirts on sweltering summer days.
"This is European lawmaking at its most pedantic," Munich's mayor, Christian Ude, declared during a recent public debate on the measure. "A waitress is no longer allowed to wander around a beer garden with a plunging neckline. I would not want to enter a beer garden under these conditions."
Facing a growing crisis in public trust, the European Commission's industry and competitiveness chief, Guenter Verheugen, on Tuesday announced he would abolish burdensome E.U. measures that critics allege are strangling businesses and suffocating member states. He would start with 68 pending rules, the sunshine directive among them.
"We're trying to improve ordinary people's confidence in the European Union," Verheugen told a session of the European Parliament in the French town of Strasbourg. He added that he wanted to prove that the bloc is "not a bureaucratic monster."
Verheugen said efforts to streamline the European Union's estimated 83,000 pages of directives, laws and regulations were spurred by voters' rejection of the proposed European constitution in France and the Netherlands this year and concern that many Europeans had lost confidence in the stodgy E.U. apparatus.
"The perception is that unelected bureaucrats are constantly sending out directives, particularly on business and all sorts of issues, from the size of tractor seats to much more serious health and safety issues," said Daniel Keohane, a senior analyst at the London-based Center for European Reform. "The main idea is to show it is getting away from interfering."
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso complained this month that many proposed laws had become a "joke" and were "absurd."
E.U. officials conceded that the first reform efforts covered a modest 68 draft regulations that have been languishing in bureaucratic limbo since before Jan. 1, 2004. The measures range from mandating the size of coffee packages to limiting the weekend hours of truck drivers in the 25 E.U. countries.
Most of the 68 were never destined to be laws at all but were requests for reports or recommendations for cooperation with countries that have since joined the European Union.
"It is just the beginning," Verheugen said. "This is the appetizer on the menu. You'll have to wait for the main course."
If history is a barometer, it could be a long wait. Creating a more substantial list of unnecessary measures could take years, and even those regulations that are abandoned could be resurrected in new forms.
Some members of the European Parliament and lobby groups immediately criticized the initial list, saying a few of the measures provided for important protections of workers' health and safety. Among the more controversial are a proposal limiting truck drivers' weekend hours on the road and the sun protection regulation.
"The exposure of workers to sunburn seems an esoteric topic -- if it weren't that people have come to realize it may be a problem that needs to be treated," said Renaud Dehousse, director of the Center for European Studies at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris. "But do we need a pan-European rule to cover exposure to sunburn from Helsinki to Madrid, knowing climate tends to vary significantly?"
Other draft measures Verheugen hopes to erase include "creation of a harmonized regulatory framework" across the European Union for sales gimmicks such as contests and free gifts, rules for improving honey production and requirements for the labeling of alcoholic beverages.
While some measures may be introduced with good intentions, the years-long process of approval creates untenable laws, according to some lobby groups.
Annette Dragsdahl, who tracks internal market issues for the Copenhagen-based Confederation of Danish Industries, said she has spent several years monitoring a proposal for regulating machinery. "For one law on machines, 1,000 amendments have been posted," Dragsdahl said. "No matter how you write it, the end result will be very confusing."
For now, it's business as usual for the bureaucracy. On Monday, the day before Verheugen launched his campaign, a statement was posted on the E.U. Web site announcing an overhaul of rules covering hygiene in the food chain.
The statement said the changes would include "provisions for food chain information, specific testing methods for marine biotoxins, fishery products, lists of approved food establishments, model health certificates for certain products (frogs' legs, snails, gelatine and collagen), and derogations for traditional foods, amongst other things."