Eurocrats to regulate our Marigolds? We have tocombat these EU fantasies | John Palmer

With a UK referendum on EU membership on the cards, the campaign to demonise Brussels’ regulatory process will only get more vitriolic

Sound the alarm! According to the Daily Telegraph, “bonkers” European commission regulatory officials are on the loose again – this time banning sub-standard oven gloves lest anyone gets burned preparing the Sunday roast. Worse still, it seems that zealous “Brussels officials” want to test whether some washing-up gloves like Marigolds can actually protect users against potentially irritating detergents.

Is this merely the latest illustration of what some see as an out of control EU “nanny state?” After all, we have been assailed by endless reports about alleged “insanities” of Euro regulators. Who could forget the EU ban on traditional British measurements? Or the outlawing of British yoghurts and “straight bananas”?

Who could have failed to be rendered indignant by the diktat ordering British bar-maids’ cleavages to be covered, or Brussels’ insistence that British trawler crews wear hairnets? Other reported regulatory outrages were moves to ban mince pies and mushy peas from UK restaurant menus. Worse still, we have been told of a sinister EU plan to outlaw British-style double-decker buses.

Fish and chips and mushy peas
Fish and chips and mushy peas. ‘Another reported regulatory outrage’. Photograph: Gary Woods/Alamy

OK – perhaps at this point we need to be reminded that all these claims proved to be a total fiction. Or in the case of decimalisation, a misunderstanding. It was after all a decision taken by the British government to go metric – before the UK even joined the EU. But that did not stop Euro-phobic newspapers working themselves into a lather of indignation about alleged Brussels interference in some of the most hallowed corners of British culture or the British way of life.

Of course, serious regulation does take place in the EU. There are myriad committees that exist to ensure that basic health and safety provisions, or consumer and environmental standards, are maintained by a wide range of enterprises operating across the EU’s 28 member states. These include officials from the European commission – which has oversight of these issues – and officials from all member governments, as well as representatives from the industries or services affected. It is complete nonsense to suggest that these decisions are taken by so-called “Brussels Eurocrats” acting in isolation.

The reality is that the 28 EU economies share a single market where goods and services are freely traded across borders. Do we really want products from the least regulated part of the single market to be sold to consumers elsewhere? If there is a threat of people being burnt through using shoddily produced oven gloves, should nothing be done?

Oven gloves holding a tray of biscuits
The way the cookie crumbles? ‘If there is a threat of people being burnt through using shoddily produced oven gloves, should nothing be done?’ Photograph: Dann Tardif/LWA/Corbis

The single market is one important reason why eight out of 10 British businesses want the UK to remain within the EU. Certainly this is also the position taken by UK-based organisations concerned with consumer protection, health and safety standards, and environmental protection – as well as the great majority of trade unions and others involved in pressing for workers’ rights and employment standards.

Of course the terrain of consumer protection or health and safety will always be hotly contested among the different interests involved. Those who see nothing objectionable in a race to the bottom when it comes to regulatory, social, environmental or labour standards will do their best to demonise the regulatory process. We can certainly expect some in the tabloid press to inject a regular dose of fantasy and vitriol into the debate now that we may be heading for a referendum on continued British membership of the EU.

It would help if the British media were better represented in Brussels, or had a better grasp of the elementary facts about how EU institutions actually work. Sadly, sections of the UK media are retreating from active engagement with what is actually going on in the EU. A heavy responsibility remains on those who remain to separate fact from fiction.


John Palmer

The GuardianTramp

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