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EU is acting on scientific evidence to cut lead in toys, not stopping children colouring

Sunday, January 29th, 2017
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Rating: 3.6/5 (38 votes cast)

The EU is introducing new measures reducing the limits for lead in toys, based on new and robust scientific evidence.

Anyone with young children knows that they have tendency to chew toys – not least pencils and crayons. The latest scientific evidence supports the view that there is no safe threshold and even tiny amounts of lead present in such toys can contribute to the risk of children suffering disorders ranging from kidney disease to learning difficulties.

So this is about making toys safer for children, not about “banning” crayons and colouring pencils as The Sun newspaper suggests. Read the full entry

Ceiling flaw in suggestion EU rules behind payments to big landowners

Thursday, September 29th, 2016
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Rating: 3.1/5 (28 votes cast)

Stories today based on a Greenpeace report about EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies to large landowners cover a matter which has been widely debated over many years and are mostly accurate, as far as they go. But not all of them give quite the full picture.

EU rules allow Member States to cut substantially so-called “basic payments” under the CAP to large landowners, such as most of those cited in the Greenpeace report, by applying an upper limit (ceiling). Nine Member States do so.

In the UK, such a ceiling is applied in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – with the resulting funds generated remaining in those regions for rural development projects.

The UK chooses not to apply a ceiling in England.

The European Commission’s repeated proposals for more radical reform have been watered down by national Ministers.

Only active farms are eligible for CAP funding as long as the farmer keeps his land in a state suitable for agricultural production. The business of breeding racehorses is not supported, though the land on which horses graze might qualify if it meets the criteria.

Basic payments account for in the UK and most Member States for around 70% of all CAP payments made to farmers.

Further info

In 2010, the European Commission proposed extensive reforms to the CAP, including to place a compulsory ceiling on payments to large landowners under the CAP’s basic payment scheme, thus putting an end to payments at the levels referred to in today’s reports.

A number of Member States combined to oppose these proposals.

As no EU law can be adopted without approval from both Member States and MEPs, this meant the extensive reform package implemented from 2014 did not include any compulsory ceilings, only a reduction of 5% on all amounts over €150 000.

However, an option was left open for individual Member States to apply a ceiling at national level.

Similar proposals to limit the amount of payment per individual farm were made by the Commission in successive CAP reform exercises since 1992 – but were always blocked by Member States.

In the UK, ceilings are now applied in Northern Ireland (€150 000), Wales (€300 000) and Scotland (€600 000). Read the full entry

EU doctors in UK are not “a threat to patients” as Daily Mail says. If they left, that WOULD put patients in danger

Saturday, September 24th, 2016
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Rating: 4.4/5 (43 votes cast)

It is out of the question that EU rules would require the UK to let linguistically or medically incompetent doctors practise. In fact, the rules – recently further reinforced in agreement with the UK – expressly require Member States to prevent such people from being employed.

Yet, the Daily Mail runs yet another misleading front page article on 24 September headlined “Patients at risk from EU doctors” and alleging that “thousands of EU doctors can work in the UK without basic safety checks.” Online, the headline becomes an even greater insult to about 30 000 “EU doctors” – 10% of the total – working in the NHS: “Patients ARE at risk from thousands of EU medics.”

The consensus in the profession – as has been reported by several other newspapers, including the Times here – is that the threat to patients comes from “EU doctors” deciding to leave the UK rather than staying here to save lives and cure illness. So, while clearly patient safety should always be the top priority for healthcare organisations, it is hard to see how national newspaper front pages and online pieces impugning European doctors’ professionalism will help patients.

This is a point made in no uncertain terms in response to the Mail article by some stakeholders and medical professionals on social media.

Again, the Mail chose not to contact us for comment before its latest splash.

We have provided details of how EU rules work, here and here. We will not repeat those in this piece.

There are, however, some important elements to add.

Read the full entry

Sun’s imperial “up yours” to Brussels falls down on the facts

Thursday, September 1st, 2016
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Rating: 4.6/5 (159 votes cast)

The Sun runs an article on 31 August by Bill Cash MP claiming the EU has banned the use of pounds and ounces. The paper follows up by suggesting ten ways to “say up yours to the EU.” This may be intended as humour. But it repeats inaccuracies and misleading statements which seem to be widely believed and therefore are worth correcting yet again.

First, the EU has never banned pounds and ounces or other imperial measures. EU law does require metric measurements to be used – though already in 1965, eight years before joining the EEC, the Wilson Government decided to initiate the UK’s metrication programme, in response to global moves in this direction. However, EU law has always allowed imperial measures to be used alongside metric ones – as the Sun itself acknowledged at the bottom of this earlier article. Visiting any supermarket or market stall is enough to confirm this. This issue has been addressed on this blog several times, for example here, back in 2001.

The Sun proposes “having cleaner carpets by swapping weak, EU regulated vacuums for powerful ones”.   In fact, consumer magazine “Which” has found that new EU rules – backed by Member States, industry and consumer groups – on the specifications for vacuum cleaners (the facts here) have led to better performance and cheaper running costs. In any case it is uncertain that vacuum cleaner manufacturers, who operate globally, would want to produce models generally considered obsolete just for UK markets.

There are no proposals on the table to introduce similar rules for hair dryers, toasters or other appliances not already covered, as referred to in two of the Sun’s helpful suggestions for saying “up yours” to the EU and as we explain here. Only if there is cast-iron scientific evidence will the Commission put forward such proposals, and in any case they would need to be agreed by Member States and the European Parliament. If such evidence were clearly established, it would remain to be seen whether the UK parliament or public – inside or outside the EU – would wish to create unnecessary pollution, environmental damage and higher electricity bills by insisting on energy guzzling appliances, even in the event that manufacturers did want to keep producing them.

Another suggestion the Sun puts forward is bringing back old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs that require changing more often and thus cost consumers more. The Sun is correct that incandescent light bulbs have been phased out in the EU, not on the basis of a high-handed bureaucratic decision but as a result of a clear mandate from elected ministers and MEPs. They have been, or are being, phased out also in the US, Canada, Switzerland, China, Australia, Brazil, Russia and many other jurisdictions. Again, we have covered this issue in earlier entries and again there does not so far seem to be any evidence that the UK – which supported the EU measures – would now want to go against this global trend.

The Sun also calls for the UK to “reclaim jam” from EU rules that stipulate it should have 60% sugar content. But the rules already allow flexibility on this. What is more, the British media – including the Sun – have previously complained about this very flexibility, saying it would “ruin British jam”! This saga is explained here.

There are no EU rules preventing the recycling of tea bags. Again this is a very old – and wrong – story. Read the full entry

EC investment policy is about boosting growth and jobs, not “clobbering British firms”

Monday, October 12th, 2015
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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)

The European Commission’s proposals for capital markets union have been welcomed by the City of London (for example City UK here) and by SME organisations (for example the Federation of Small Businesses here). They aim to give UK and other European companies better access to finance and provide new investment opportunities both for banks and other financial market players such as venture capital, private equity, “business angels” and crowdfunding.

Meanwhile, the Commission’s investment plan to mobilise € 315 bn in investment that would not happen without such a scheme is being implemented, again with UK support.

Read the full entry

Cornish pasties “made in America” will NOT be coming to Europe

Monday, September 21st, 2015
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Rating: 4.0/5 (6 votes cast)

There is absolutely no chance that the EU’s proposed trade deal with the US, known as TTIP*, will allow American products to be marketed in the UK or anywhere else in the EU as Cornish pasties, Cumberland sausage, Stilton or any other currently protected name**.

Some 60 UK products are protected under three linked EU schemes that allow producers to use the name on EU markets only if they are making the products within the traditional production regions and/or using full traditional recipes.

The TTIP deal with the US, currently under negotiation, may extend to US markets the protection against non-genuine rivals that traditional producers already enjoy here in Europe.

Read the full entry

From A-levels to zoo adverts: an alphabet of 26 false stories about the EU banning things

Sunday, September 6th, 2015
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Rating: 4.6/5 (9 votes cast)

British newspapers have accused the European Union of banning, among many other things: A-levels, bankrupt (the word), coffee drinking (unless moderate), double decker buses, elections on Thursdays, firefighters’ poles, gin in square bottles, herbal remedies, imperial measures, jam jars being reused, kilts being described as menswear, lollipop ladies’ sticks, milk of magnesia, non-nappy wearing cows, off licences (on weekdays), Peter Pan, the Queen (from UK passports), rhododendrons, steam trains, toilets (traditional British), Union Flags (on meat packaging), violin strings (made from gut), wood-burning ovens, xylophones (toy), yoghurt (in schools) and….. (yes, there is one for ‘z’) zoo advertisements (which fail to include images of elephants).

A quick look around will reveal that all of these things are still with us.

For the more common letters of the alphabet, we were spoilt for choice in selecting examples. So a full A-Z is here.

The EU certainly does not get everything right. It is part of the media’s job to scrutinise and criticise what it does.

But might it be time to stop distorting facts out of all recognition, even if most British people are too savvy to be deceived?

Corrections of hundreds more mythical and/or misleading stories here, in reverse chronological order.

The full picture about EU funding for film and TV

Monday, August 31st, 2015
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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)

A number of media reports fuelled by a press release from the Taxpayers’ Alliance have attacked EU funding – via the Creative Europe programme – for film and television. Some reports ridiculed ‘Get Blake!” an animated television series produced in France, though with British connections, and helped with about £300 000 in EU funding. The series has in fact been sold to leading children’s TV channels worldwide and will bring back money into the EU economy.

No newspapers seem to have sought the opinion of either the UK film and TV industry, the British Film Institute (BFI) or of experts on the audiovisual industry. Neither the Times, the Sun  nor the Mail – the latter seems to have simply rehashed the story without speaking to us – point out that most developed countries, not least the US, provide subsidies and or tax breaks to film and television.

Read the full entry

Fact-check of claims about EU-US trade negotiations and access to information

Friday, August 28th, 2015
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Rating: 5.0/5 (4 votes cast)

A number of documents exchanged between the European Commission and British American Tobacco were released on 25 August. They were not about the negotiations with the United States. Instead, they contained commercially sensitive information related to issues of alleged discrimination in Japan.  Those documents were published following an access-to-documents request, the EU’s equivalent of a freedom of information request.  The parts containing commercially sensitive information were blacked out as required by the applicable EU rules.

The vast majority of requests for documents are granted. In 2014, out of 5,630 requests, only 668 (12% of the cases) were denied access, while full access was given to 72% of the cases and partial access was granted to 15% of the cases.

Read the full entry

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

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015
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Rating: 4.2/5 (13 votes cast)

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, etc.

In May 2015, the European Commission sought clarification over this, as it considers that the ban on using dehydrated milk in all dairy products could hamper the free movement of goods within the EU single market.

The Italian dairy industry itself alleges that the ban affects its competitiveness on an open European market because it cannot use cheaper raw material.

In addition, the ban could unfairly deprive suppliers of dehydrated milk products of opportunities to export to producers of dairy products in Italy.

The Commission believes the objective of promoting quality Italian produce could be achieved through clear labelling informing shoppers if a product is made with powdered or fresh milk. Consumers could then choose on an informed basis.

But again, this is only about standard products which in other Member States are sometimes made from dehydrated milk. It would not change anything with regard to the justly famous Italian cheeses that most UK news stories inaccurately fixed upon. Their age-old recipes are safe.

Background

An erroneous report appeared in the Daily Telegraph (Italy: EU request for powdered milk in mozzarella is ‘attack’ on cultural heritage) on 29 June.

The Times – its ” Brussels is whey out of order, say cheesemakers” headline deserves a hat tip from pun admirers – and the Financial Times did mention that some Italian cheeses were protected by quality schemes, but their reports still referred to mozzarella in ways implying that it would be affected by any change to allow dehydrated milk in cheese.

Italy’s own Il Sole 24 Ore meanwhile described the controversy as “a tempest in teacup”

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

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