Category Archives: Euromyths

For those crazy stories they use to bash us with

Emerging from the August slumber

It’s clear that people are gearing up for the “rentrée” on Monday – my diary is filling up with meetings after several quiet weeks. And it’s also obvious that with the prospect of a general election looming, and EP elections next year, we’re going to have a lot of work on our hands over the next few months. Just this week, the acre story has reared its head again (am I allowed to say that there’s some irony to be found in Conservative MPs talking about the awfulness of the EU getting rid of the acre, when all the EU decision does is recognise the status quo in the UK, a measure brought in by the last Conservative government…?). We had the cakes. We know that we have pesticides and electronic tagging of sheep coming up. Who knows what else is waiting there for us?!

Off to Brussels this weekend, which will include watching the Challenge Cup Final with some friends. If you need a laugh, read Jon Wilkin’s analysis of the Saints team. The man is a comedy genius. Also getting my hair cut, finally, so will no longer look like the evil lovechild of Leo Sayer.

I tried out for a band last night, but I’m not very hopeful – I had made clear that I was looking to do this for fun, not as a career choice, but they do want to do a lot of gigs and festivals and things. Loved their music though, so I can only wish them the best of luck!

Taking the biscuit (and the scone, cupcake, fairy cake…)

Euromyths are funny things. They can be because one individual inspector gets heavy about something. They can be because EU rules are usually minimum standards and a country has chosen to go further when putting them into national law. In a few cases the myth itself is that they’re a myth, when we accept that the rules say what people say they do, even if we want to change them. And sometimes they are just total nonsense, which with 5 minutes checking would never make it out there. We had one of those this weekend, with the “news” that EU rules are stopping people eating the cakes that they enter into cake-baking contests and the like at village fairs. I will quote directly from the guidance that we issue to the national authorities that implement these rules:

Operations such as the occasional handling, preparation, storage and serving of food by private persons at events such as church, school or village fairs are not covered by the scope of the Regulation. This is made clear in recital 9 of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004. The second sentence states that: “Community rules should only apply to undertakings, the concept of which implies a certain continuity of activities and a certain degree of organisation”. The term “undertaking” is integrated in the definition of a “food business” (in accordance with Article 3(2) of the General Food Law (Regulation (EC) No 178/2002), a “food business” must be an “undertaking”).  Somebody who handles, prepares, stores or serves food occasionally and on a small scale (e.g. a church, school or village fair and other situations such as organised charities comprising individual volunteers where the food is prepared occasionally) cannot be considered as an “undertaking” and is therefore not subject to the requirements of Community hygiene legislation.

So the European Commission’s view is that cakes prepared in the framework of local fairs should not be subject to the requirements of Community hygiene legislation. Which I’m very pleased about, because I love the cake stalls at fairs, particularly in the light of my cupcake problem. (The best I have ever had, for the record, were in Grand Central Station, New York. Mouth still waters at the thought of them!). I’d be interested to know how this idea made it into the Scottish Rural Women’s Institute or any other groups, because it clearly isn’t part of our rules.

 

 

 

It’s raining Euromyths

*sigh* a few days out of the office having a blast at the samba festival and I get back to find the office is euromyth central. For the general information of the world out there – we are not banning the acre, we are just not extending the use of a derogation that the UK government doesn’t make use of any more. The same legislation secures the status of the mile and the pint, so they’re not going anywhere either. Equally, we have nothing against Peking Duck, but some ovens used to make it have been found to be dangerous and so rightly removed from use – I don’t think anyone wants crispy skin so much they are willing for someone to get carbon monoxide poisoning. Let’s just recap: the EU is NOT banning the acre and the EU is NOT banning Peking Duck.

Another NOT in my life at the moment is I am NOT flying anywhere on EasyJet any time soon. We were left at Toulouse airport for more than 2 hours yesterday, so by the time we got through passport control and customs, it was too late for me to get a train back to Balham. Len and Bev very kindly let me stay at their house, but I’m really looking forward to getting back to Balham tonight and sleeping in my own bed!

The festival itself was ace though, indeed much more fun than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be all samba dancing and women with big headresses and little bikinis, but actually it was predominantly percussion baterias and I can confirm that the rhythm IS going to get you… There was also some fantastic street art – from a troupe of musicians with bombards and drums singing in minority languages like provencal and languedocien, to a street magician, and Ens’batucada who were just outstanding – stuff for Watch This Space next year?. Plus I did stuff I love like going to French markets (3 in 5 days!) and I saw my house, which I’m so happy about. Just need to get some furniture into it now.

Feeling calmer now

I didn’t post yesterday because I was having a ‘mare of a day dealing with various administrative things in Brussels and here and the entry would have been one long rant. And no-one wants that, do they! But I met a friend after work and went to Watch this Space and that went a long way to calming me down.

I was at the Spanish Embassy this morning for the awards to the schools in the UK that teach Spanish best. I went along because quite a few of the people involved in the Arsenal Double Club were there. That project is winning its own award next week, so we have been thinking about how to get word out about it. I tried some different angles – Observer Sports Monthly, Times Education – but I’m not hopeful. Shame, because I think it’s a great story on many levels. They were saying at the awards today that Spanish is rising in popularity as a foreign language, partly because of cultural things such as seeing big stars like Antonia Banderas, Penelope Cruz and J-Lo working and talking in both languages, and the growing role of Hispanic culture in the US. I think the number of Spanish sportpeople here is an issue too – is it a coincidence that 2 of the schools are from Liverpool, where both the red and blue teams have Spanish players? We have a report out from the Commission tomorrow about languages and business, and apparently it is a big issue here in the UK – the business community often complain about the UK’s lack of language skills. I know from personal experience that having those skills was a huge advantage for working while I was at college – I did telemarketing in German and worked as receptionist at a language school and got both of those jobs because I spoke foreign languages.

By the way the salt cellar story was definitely a Euro-myth – though not a total myth. Apparently Gateshead Council came up with the idea and Rochdale are trialing it during Salt Awareness Week. The article from the Daily Mail was pretty positive about the idea, as were the vox pops they talked to. I can’t imagine it would have been like that if the suggestion had come from the EU…would you like double standards with those chips, sir?

Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep

According to the Open europe blog, I am “extremely chirpy” – does this count as them saying something positive about Europe? They also say I use too many exclamation marks – a fact of which I am well aware (I also use too many hyphens and brackets as well). Still, nice to know someone’s reading! <– HA!

Was at the launch of the NT’s Watch This Space festival on Friday. It started with a meeting with all the cultural attaches of the different member states and people from the UK’s various arts councils, which was really interesting. For the launch, we watched Tango Sumo and then headed back to the Deck area at the top of the National for the reception. Angus had lined up two of the acts – Mala Sangre, a flamenco group and a couple who juggled and danced. Sounds weird, but was amazing. Highlight of the evening for me was meeting Nicholas Hytner, who directed the best thing I’ve ever seen in a theatre, His Dark Materials. More being starstruck, after Thursday.

Weekend was fun, with the goodbye party of the people whose house I will be renting on Saturday, so I met loads of new people, then recovery and Wimbledon final on Sunday – what a game! I was just so glad I didn’t have an emotional investment in either player, cos I think I would have expired long before the end.

Got in early today as I’m leaving early, so I did the daily video-conference with Brussels. Found out that we are negotiating with the UK Government so that people can write to the Commission on Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, like we already have with the Spanish government for their non-Castilian languages. Also some nonsense written by Terry Wogan of all people about an EU directive on how many holes salt-cellars have to have. I can only assume (hope?) that it was a piss-take, but the way it is written I’m sure there are people who will believe it is true.

I also followed up a comment written on Mark Mardell’s blog about the healthcare plans, when someone wrote that “Not once in their 50-year history has the EU Commission ever proposed to return a power previously acquired by them back to the democratic arena of the nation-state”. Not true. The marketing standards for fruit and veg is a recent example. Today we proposed a block exemption which would return a lot of state aid decisions to the Member State level. We have undertaken a whole bunch of simplifications, recasts and repeals of legislation to decrease the administrative burden on business in particular. And that’s just a morning’s work – I’m sure there are many other examples to be found.

First the cucumbers, now the kiwis

[Sigh] One step forward, two steps back…

The redtops are full of a story today about a market trader who is being fined for his kiwis being 1mm smaller than the rules for grade 2 kiwis allow. Of course “Brussels bureaucrats” are getting the blame. Now, there are a number of things here:

1) We do not ensure implementation of the rules, the countries do. So the bureaucrat in this case is British, not Brussels

2) We are trying to get the rules changed so that even if there are standards for how things can be marketed, produce that falls below those standards can be sold.

3) The standards are set at UN, not EU level: http://www.unece.org/trade/agr/standard/fresh/fresh_e/46kiwifruit_2008.pdf

3) In this particular case the fruit were on average 4g below the minimum weight for a kiwi fruit to be sold for food. Now I’m no mathematician, but I reckon that’s more than 1mm smaller than regs – in fact the regs don’t have any size requirement in them at all.

I was thinking about this case in the shower this morning (rehearsing how I would make these points to anyone that calls us…) and it occurred to me that the humble kiwifruit is a result of one of the best ever marketing campaigns – remember when they weren’t called kiwi fruit, rather cape gooseberries? That was dreamt up by the New Zealand fruit marketing people, to encourage people to buy theirs. It’s all spun back on them though, because now they’re called kiwi fruit, wherever they are from!

Quite a busy day today, not helped by my being out of the office yesterday afternoon with the hayfever. Sounds stupid, but I was having such a bad attack I couldn’t do anything except blow my nose and feel sorry for myself! Today we’re trying to place an article on Zimbabwe, have another on patient rights that needs serious rewriting, I’ve got to get in touch with the Arsenal Double Club people as it looks we’ll be able to arrange a visit to Anderlecht with the kids, been talking to the National Theatre about how we can market the European aspect of the Watch This Space festival. And then I head off to Brussels this afternoon! Looking forward to seeing everyone there again.

Back in Brussels

I’m in Brussels at the moment – I have to get the house sorted out for the move, get quotes etc, and I’ve been asked to take part in an event tomorrow about communicating Europe, organised by the Committee of the Regions. It’s been nice to be back. I went into the Commission today for the press briefing – the issue of the straight cucumbers that I wrote about a few days came up! seems to have really fired the imagination – apparently news 24 were asking people if they would buy knobbly veg. The irony is that they probably said no…! The other irony is that apparently these regulations came in at the request of…the UK when they joined in the early 70s! Shame this story is so big today and not on Friday, when it might have shown some of the Irish voters that we can be about deregulation as much as anything else. I saw some of the UK and Irish journalists today and one of them (the Irish) said that the story about the EU banning dogs from B&Bs could have made the difference in the referendum. Thinking about it, that’s probably what the motivation was for running it then. I was going to muse whether the media realise the power that they have, but I strongly suspect they know very well and are prepared to use it in such instances. It does make me quail a bit at the task ahead of me – what can I do against the might of Fleet Street? But I think that sometimes cynical people underestimate the power of naive idealism like mine. I’m not a committed European because they pay me a nice salary or because I want there to be a European federal super-state with all powers concentrated in Brussels. I’m a committed European because I believe that our future is more secure if we work together. And I hope that some of my enthusiasm for and belief in that will be communicated to people while I am in London.

Coo, that was a bit heavy. Sorry about that! If you’d like to do something fun and educational tomorrow, head down to Trafalgar Square, where UNHCR are setting up a refugee camp. It will allow people to see what it is to be a refugee in somewhere like Sudan. Head over to the European tent if you’re there and see how we give considerable support to organisations like the Red Cross working in some of the worst human disaster zones in the world.

What it’s all about

Today has been a little microcosm of what this job is going to be about.

We started out with two “bonkers Brussels” stories, neither of which were correctly reported. Firstly was the one about “Brussels” (I love the way they say that) has banned dogs from the kitchen of good old British B&Bs. The times story was written by the ironically named Simon de Bruxelles, if you can believe that – Geoff Meade says that’s his real name; I thought it had to be a pseudonym for one of the Brussels journalists! Anyway, as usual, this is a story of overzealous implementation in the UK – our rules make people working in the food industry responsible for ensuring their food is prepared in hygenic conditions. This may require keeping animals out of food preparation areas. But the rules have flexibility to take into account the presence of animals provided appropriate measures are taken to ensure there is no contamination. Which makes sense – none of us wants dog hair in our fry-up, I suspect! The other story was that the Commission is bringing in new rules that will close duty-free shops in regional airports. Basically the MEP (Con…) peddling this one was a few months out of date, because the Council working group is amending a Commission proposal that might have had this effect and we’re completely happy to go along with that. Which just shows that a) the member states have an important role in European processes and b) the Commission doesn’t have overarching unchecked power to decide about European citizens’ lives.

Then mid-morning, I found myself – joy of joys! – at the stage door of the National Theatre! We are sponsoring the longest street arts festival in the UK, organised by the NT, called Watch This Space. I actually went along to this a few years ago as a punter, so it’s exciting to think we’ll be directly involved. We met with the organisers and press people to talk about how we are going to do the launch. It’s a fabulous project, and a fantastic opportunity for serious visibility (in the most literal sense – you’ll be able to see the banner from the other side of the river I think!). Of course, all these Polish, Spanish, French and whatever acts would have much more difficulty coming here and taking part without EU rules on free movement and so on. And we hope it will be a showcase for UK acts to go to European countries. I’m just going to love the cultural diplomacy side of this job!

Saw a flat at lunchtime, in Clapham/Battersea. In old local authority buildings, so pretty unprepossessing from the outside, but quite nice inside, certainly less soulless that the Greenwich Millennium Village places I saw yesterday! Also off for another viewing of the houseboat today, so will see how that goes. No luck finding someone to share the Balham place yet and they had someone to see it yesterday who was very interested, so that might be an idea I have to give up, unfortunately. Such is life…