The European Development Fund offers aid to the poorest countries in forms that are most likely to deliver results for the local people


July 24, 2015

In a drive to have a go at the EU, on 20 July some UK newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail) chose to ridicule circus artists and coconut production. The articles call funding for deprived communities in some of the poorest parts in the world “frivolous expenditure” and illustrate their point with photos of appealing beaches and young female acrobats in glittering outfits.

The European Development Fund (EDF), under which the quoted projects are funded, offers development assistance to the people and countries that need it most, in many cases affected by conflict and natural disaster like Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic or Haiti. More recently development aid of some GBP 85 million (Euro 121.6 million) was mobilised after the earthquake in Nepal. The EDF projects come in many forms depending on the community or country in question, what matters is that they bring results for local people.

Elaborate metaphors and frivolous …

Daily Telegraph makes a meal of EU “embassies” buying crockery


July 21, 2015

The Daily Telegraph published an article – later picked up by other media – on 18 July suggesting that the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) was “ordering a £2m dinner service fit for an emperor”. In fact it is launching a tender to supply all the crockery, cutlery and glasses, etc that all of its 140 “delegations” – equivalent to embassies – across the world will need for the next 4 years and doing so in the most economical way, with a flexible contract.

€3m is the absolute maximum that can be spent over four years, but only items actually needed and supplied will be paid for and the real amount spent is likely to be much less. The prices will be the normal rates for the kind of good quality but not extravagant materials that all diplomatic services would expect to use – for example around €10.50 (£7.50) for …

No, Brussels is not calling for Italians to produce mozzarella using powdered milk


July 8, 2015

Reports that the European Commission is trying to force Italy to allow mozzarella to be made from powdered milk are incorrect.

Indeed, the reverse is the case – EU rules prohibit cheese made from powdered milk being sold anywhere in Europe as mozzarella, or indeed as gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano or provolone.

These and other Italian cheeses have their production methods and ingredients protected from cheap imitations by EU food quality schemes (PDO: protection of designations of origin; PGI: geographical indications and TSG: traditional speciality guaranteed).

These food quality schemes, which also cover a number of UK products – see this database – are a way of protecting Europe’s cultural heritage and there are no plans to water them down.

So what’s the fuss about?

Italy currently has a blanket ban on condensed and powdered milk being used in any dairy products, though it allows their use in other categories of food products –pastries, ice-creams, …

Europe is not banning tourist photos of the London Eye


June 25, 2015

Recent press reports may have left readers with the idea that the EU is about to legislate to “ban” or “censor” holiday snaps of famous monuments and art works and/or make it illegal to upload them to Facebook or Instagram.

There is no such legal proposal on the table.

Even if there were, it would require the agreement not only of MEPs but of a large majority of Member States, most of which, like the UK, currently apply “freedom of panorama”. That principle allows anyone to publish, even for commercial ends, images of public places, including the buildings and public art works permanently located in those places.

Some other Member States, including France and Belgium, have laws which restrict – usually to non-commercial purposes – the use of such images without prior authorisation.

But they do not seek to ban people from taking photos for their own pleasure. Neither is there any evidence that …

No, the EU does not give you hay fever


May 29, 2015

Rapeseed, the home grown alternative to olive oil imports first introduced by the Romans, is again in the headlines as its bright yellow blooms transform parts of Britain.

Opinion concerning the impact the flowering crops have on hay fever sufferers is as seasonal as the crops themselves: “Runny eyes and wheezy chest? Blame Britain’s crops of rapeseed“, Daily Mail 2007 and more recently “Yellow crop has been blamed for Shropshire hay fever rise“.

Now the EU stands accused by Dr Madsen Pirie in the Times of being responsible for this perceived allergy misery: “What’s lurid, yellow and makes you sneeze?  Ask the EU“, (21 May 2015).

But the amount of rapeseed currently growing in the UK is not the result of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The CAP subsidy system has been reformed considerably over the last quarter of a century. It is now extremely market-oriented and decoupled from production, …

Express brews up dodgy coffee report


May 29, 2015

The Daily Express claims that “Brussels is trying to restrict the drinking habits of Britain’s coffee lovers”.

This is utter rubbish. It is inconceivable that the EU ever could – or would want to – restrict people from drinking as much coffee as they like.

What has happened is that some producers of energy drinks and other products containing caffeine sought EU authorisation for some claims they wanted to make in advertisements about caffeine’s alleged beneficial effects.

The EU is a single market where products can be marketed EU wide under one set of rules, which keeps business costs and prices down.

That means that, to protect consumers, there is a need to assess at European level the veracity of claims about the health-giving properties of food and drink. This is done based on advice from experts from the European Commission and all Member States.

As part of the ongoing assessment of whether …

No tax crusade coming your way from the EU


May 27, 2015

Contrary to gung-ho reports in UK press (Daily Express, 27 May, Fury at EU plot to tax Britain; Daily Telegraph, France and Germany behind plans for ‘common EU corporation tax’), claims that the European Commission is planning to propose a minimum rate of taxation for businesses in the EU are plain wrong.

What we do however want to ensure is effective and fair taxation of profits where they are generated, especially when it comes to companies that do business across borders. Discussions at EU level are about tax bases and making sure companies cannot unfairly escape payment or derive unfair advantages from moving profits around, not about tax rates.

A tax base is not the rate of tax or the sum levied in tax but the value of the income or assets on which tax is calculated.

Here are some details about what the EU is really doing and intends …

EU organic farming rules prioritise animal welfare and natural food and do not insist animals are treated only by homeopathy


April 25, 2015

Misleading stories in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in late April suggested organic farmers and fish farmers have “been ordered by the EU to use homeopathic medicine.”

Homeopathy is one of the options available. But the EU rules concerned refer to other types of natural remedy and are crystal clear that antibiotics may be used where necessary.

Organic farming by definition means farming practices which are as natural as possible. That is why consumers choose to buy organic. The less intensive nature of production already helps prevent disease.

It is therefore logical that organic farmers should favour natural remedies, where appropriate, but have recourse to antibiotics where there is no effective alternative.

Given the general issues of animal welfare and immunity to antibiotics as well as the importance that consumers of organic products attach to all aspects of production it would seem surprising if newspapers were arguing that antibiotics should be used in …

Media deserves no credit for latest reporting on EU rules on card payments


April 14, 2015

A new EU law will limit the inter-bank fees on the basis of which banks charge retailers for accepting card payments. The cap will be 0.2 per cent of the transaction value for debit cards and 0.3 per cent for credit cards and will apply to all card purchases in the EU – including online. National Ministers and MEPs agreed last month on a European Commission proposal, and the new rules are due to be introduced by the end of the year provided final formalities are completed.

Of course, the higher the transaction fees, the more likely retailers will need to pass them on to all consumers in the form of higher prices. So the cap aims to keep a lid on prices, for everybody who uses credit cards but also for consumers who use (cheaper) debit cards or cash but still need to pay shop prices which reflect the level …

Media reports fail to point out how new EU VAT rules protect the UK from unfair competition


April 13, 2015

The UK government expects changes to EU VAT rules for digital products to raise for the UK Treasury an additional £300m in tax revenue every year.

The government has added that the changes will protect £5bn in revenue that might have been at risk without the changes, because they remove an incentive for certain companies to relocate outside the UK, in order to benefit from rock-bottom VAT rates: see: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN07075/vat-on-digital-services

The rule changes reduce the advantage for companies of locating in low VAT countries by establishing that VAT will be paid in the buyer’s country and not where the seller is based.

So someone in the UK buying an e-book from Amazon will now pay VAT to the UK, not Luxembourg.

This will ensure that countries like the UK – which operate average or high rates of VAT – get a fair income from VAT on digital products and cannot be unfairly undercut …