Monday, April 13, 2009

Are Carrots Fruit? Does the EU Destroy Lives?

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This post grew from a lengthy discussion I've been having with readers on another EU blogger's site. As often happens with the EU, things quickly became a bit bogged down in the details and soon veered completely off-topic. And, as often happens in my life, lengthy and detailed discussions about jam and trucking ensued.

I'll open up a thread here just so that Nosemonkey's blog doesn't get dragged even further off-topic. If anyone feels like commenting, you're welcome to. Otherwise: here's the gist of what I was arguing.

Carrots = Fruit, Jam for the Making Of?

Things kicked off when Tim Worstall argued that:

"I don’t think there should be a law about whether carrots are fruit, jam for the making of, or not. So long as your Doce de Cenoura has a great big picture of a carrot on it to explain the orange colour, and the label as “cenoura on it, that’s all that anyone needs."

The EU directive claiming that carrots are fruit can be found here. I gave it a quick once-over, and it's a fairly dull directive largely concerned with standardising product labelling across the EU so that jams made in one member-state can be sold in all the other member-states. It was first adopted in 1979 and then amended in 1988 in order to expand the definition of what constituted jam.

As far as I can tell, the directive does not go so far as to force jam-makers to use only fruit to make jam (or "jam-like" substance). It just seems that the directive only applies to those fruits/carrots listed in the text:

"Article 1

This Directive shall apply to the products defined in Annex I."

However, I very much doubt that you could market your cat-food flavour (or other non-fruit flavour) jam as an actual "jam" if it didn't conform to the directive. You would have to call it cat-food "preserve" or something like that. Also, note that the very fact the directive was amended in the first place should at least demonstrate the potential for future flexibility.

Nonetheless, Tim also pointed out an apparent absurdity contained within Annex II of the directive, in which a number of permitted additional ingredients are listed, including:

"leaves of Pelargonium odoratissimum: in jam, extra jam, jelly and extra jelly, where they are made from quince"

In other words, Pelargonium odoratissimum (aka apple geranium leaves) are only allowed to be added to jams made... from quince. Why does the directive only permit apple geranium leaves to be added to jams made of quince? I don't actually know. It does seem a tad odd.

I put a kettle on and had a bit of a think about this one. Maybe the list of additional ingredients is a consumer protection measure? It is a fairly comprehensive list, and could be designed to stop jam manufacturers from adding "filler" to their products and ripping off customers. Or perhaps (and more likely) different member-states had different legislation when it came to permitted additional ingredients, and the directive was attempting to standardise all the different laws. Or maybe apple geranium leaves give a jam a lovely appley flavour, providing the illusion that a particular jam is made from apples, and not from old socks and earwax. I'm not sure.

What is clear, however, is that the directive is about standardising jam labelling and (to a lesser extent) manufacturing. Tim's response to this was to argue that standardisation is anathema to competition, and it inevitably results in inefficiency and waste. Just look at the USSR.

The problem with this argument, however, is that without at least some standardisation, there is no market at all! If 27 different member-states all have different legislation covering the manufacture and labelling of jam products, then making jam for every country in Europe would be a massive headache.

Proponents of the single-market often argue that any barrier to trade between member-states is (or could potentially be) a form of protectionism, and that this runs counter to the liberal economic model. In times of economic hardship (such as the current financial crisis) domestic political pressure often forces a government to employ protectionist measures (remember Brown's slogan: "British Jobs for British Workers"?). The European single-market makes it much harder for member-states to actually implement protectionist policies.

On Trucks, Truckers & Trucking

The next topic was prompted by Robin, who proposed that people did not properly understand the anti-EU position because:
"You haven't had your way of life destroyed, so you wouldn't have the same emotions about these people than if you did."
He then gave various examples of groups of people whose professions, he argues, had been damaged by Britain's inclusion in the EU. One group mentioned was British international drivers.

Robin's argument was essentially that British hauliers are currently being unfairly discriminated against on British roads because they pay extra taxes to the British government, which EU drivers are exempt from paying.

The British government does indeed issue a Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), which is paid upon purchase of a driver's license. The UK is free to do this under EU law. I don't want to bore people by posting reams of EU law, but I would like to quote just two paragraphs from a directive. Specifically, directive 2006/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, which governs the application of toll charges by member-states, and says:

1. "This Directive shall not prevent the non-discriminatory application by Member States of:

(a) specific taxes or charges:

- levied upon registration of the vehicle...

The above paragraph is the one permitting the UK government to levy the VED. The second paragraph I want to quote demonstrates that EU truckers are also obliged to pay British tolls (at least, as far as I can gather from the directive):

"Article 7

4. Tolls and user charges may not discriminate, directly or indirectly, on the grounds of nationality of the haulier, the country or place of establishment of the haulier or of registration of the vehicle, or the origin or destination of the transport operation."

There is also something Robin didn't (as far as I can remember) actually mention, but which also affects British truckers: the high fuel charges consumers pay in the UK. Foreign hauliers are able to fill up with cheap petrol on the continent before arriving in Britain, giving them an edge over British truckers. This, however, is still a national policy, and is set by the UK government.

Next, Robin (quite rightly) pointed out that British hauliers are still obliged to pay to use toll-roads in other European countries, yet foreign hauliers don't have to pay VED in the UK (although it should also be pointed out that the EU does put pressure on member-states to keep toll-costs below a certain amount, as happened recently in Slovenia). This is true, but again: this is a national policy!

The British Conservative Party did, in fact, put forward a plan in 2007 that they claimed would make things fairer for British hauliers. I'm not sure if the plan is still current, or if they will actually have any success implementing it when they almost inevitably come to power in the next general election, but they claim that their plan conforms to EU competition law.

My point is this: the problems facing trucking are all issues that the national government can (potentially) do something about.

Of course, I'd certainly be interested to hear from you if you disagree!

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1 comment:

Eurocentric said...

Great coverage of both areas.

I don't have anything to add, really, since I agree with most of what you have said (and you've researched it more than me).