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

Wednesday, July 8th, 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, 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.


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”

Europe is not banning tourist photos of the London Eye

Thursday, June 25th, 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 tourists are being dragged through French or Belgian courts simply for uploading holiday photos to their Facebook page, as the reports suggest would be the case if similar rules were extended EU-wide.


A general review which will culminate in European Commission proposals to update EU copyright law for the digital age is in progress.

As part of the review, a German MEP proposed that freedom of panorama should be stipulated everywhere in the EU.

Her colleagues on a European Parliament committee disagreed and instead voted that, across the EU, “commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them.”

But the European Parliament as a whole has yet to vote. And when it does, it will adopt only a “non-legislative resolution”: in effect a non-binding recommendation.


It will then be for the European Commission to put forward formal proposals to revise copyright law.

In turn, the Commission’s proposals will need agreement not only by the Parliament but also by a large majority of EU Member States. That is the way the EU works. European laws are proposed by the European Commission but only take effect if agreed, usually after amendment, by elected MEPs and – by a large majority – elected national Ministers.

It is of course perfectly fair for the media to draw attention to ideas put forward by a European Parliament committee.

But some of the headlines scream about an “absurd EU law” and “EU proposals”. Would British journalists ever describe as “an (absurd) British law” a non-binding resolution on which the UK Parliament had not even voted? Or call the self-generated position of a single Commons committee “UK proposals” or “UK government proposals”? They have done, roughly, the EU-level equivalent of that in the reports below.


There are many EU issues in the news at the moment but several UK newspapers still found room for a scare story suggesting that an “EU proposal” could mean “holiday snaps breach copyright” (Telegraph), “make sharing photographs of copyrighted landmarks illegal ” (Independent) and even that “TAKING photographs of the London Eye and the Angel of the North could soon be banned if the meddling European Union (EU) gets their (sic) way.” (Express). The Times meanwhile went with “How ‘absurd’ EU copyright law threatens to censor holiday snaps.” The Mail chose “‘Absurd’ new EU law could mean you’ll face legal action for taking pictures of famous landmarks.”

Update 14 July 2015: The European Parliament plenary on 9 July duly rejected by a large majority the committee amendment in favour of limiting freedom of panorama. Several newspapers reported this as if a major and imminent threat had been averted – “Holiday snaps saved” trumpeted the Daily Telegraph, for example. As explained above, this was only ever about one parliamentary committee’s view on a non-legislative report, about commercial use and not holiday snaps.

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

Saturday, April 25th, 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 organic farming where not necessary.

The Telegraph also refers inaccurately to “European Commission rules”. But these are European Union rules adopted by elected MEPs and national Ministers, not handed down by bureaucrats. They were agreed – including by the UK – only after extensive consultation and stakeholder and expert input and can be changed only via the same procedures.

These rules on veterinary treatment for organic farm animals were introduced for the first time in 2000 and have ever since then included a priority for the use of natural treatments, provided that they are effective. Other treatment such as antibiotics is allowed, upon a decision by a competent veterinarian. This has not changed, except that the rules have applied to aquaculture only since 1 January 2015.

Meanwhile in 2014, the Commission put forward a new proposal to revise the organic farming rules as a whole. That wider proposal is now being discussed by the Council (Member States) and the European Parliament. Again no change is proposed to the principles on veterinary treatment set out above.

We were surprised that no information or comment seems to have been sought from EU sources – or indeed from organic farmers – before these articles were published.


Here is what the rules actually say.

“Disease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary and under strict conditions, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate. In particular restrictions with respect to courses of treatment and withdrawal periods shall be defined.”

Here is the full legal text. Para refers.

In Annex V, part 3 and in Annex VI, part 1.1. there is an extensive overview of  natural remedies available, which include phytotherapeutic products, homoepathic products and trace elements.

It is reiterated there that they are to be used only “provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal, and the condition for which the treatment is intended.”

Independent fact checker Full Fact has also published an article with correct information on this issue, along with an analysis of how the mis-reporting may have come about.

 Updated 12 May 2015



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

Monday, April 13th, 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:

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 by countries offering especially low rates to entice online business.

So all-in-all, this means more money that can be spent on, for example, UK hospitals and schools.

The changes were agreed by EU Member States, including the UK – the European Commission proposes EU laws, but it is national Ministers and MEPs who amend and decide on them.

Member States rejected the Commission’s proposal for an EU-wide minimum turnover threshold below which VAT would not be applied.

That means the new system does require very small UK companies offering digital products to consumers in other EU countries to now apply VAT, having previously been exempt. To do this, they need to keep records of where their customers are located.

However, the Commission has worked with the UK to minimise any burden, notably through the VAT mini one-stop shop (VAT MOSS) which enables businesses who sell in more than one EU member state to make their tax declaration only to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), rather than 28 different tax authorities.

What is more UK companies with a taxable turnover of less than £82 000 for sales to UK customers still do not need to apply VAT on those UK sales.

Yet many media reports have accused “Brussels” of somehow making life impossible for UK businesses, without mentioning that the new rules will both enable UK businesses to compete fairly with the rest of Europe and provide substantial gains for the UK Exchequer.

Most recently, the Mail Online’s “This is Money” section alleges on 12 April that the new rules have made it impossible to publish an e-book, in a piece headlined “Controversial European VAT rules scupper charity e-book on Terry Pratchett”.

It is unclear how the changes could in themselves prevent the publication of an e-book, given that e-books are published in every Member State, including those which never had a VAT exemption for digital micro-businesses in the first place.

Finally, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has given assurances that the Commission is looking carefully at how the new rules are working in practice: “On VAT, the new rules came into force recently; they were decided a long time ago. We are evaluating it very pragmatically. We don’t want it to affect SMEs disproportionately, and will very carefully evaluate the effects. If there are adverse effects, certainly the Commission will take it into account.”

More details here




Udder nonsense that EU is forcing cows to wear nappies

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The Daily Mail’s headline found the perfect punning phrase: it is indeed “udder nonsense” that EU rules ban cows from defecating on Alpine slopes.

A German farmer has fitted his cows with bovine diapers because, he says, cowpats constitute a fertiliser high in nitrates and are therefore outlawed by barmy Brussels bureaucrats.

He has shown an admirable flair for poo-blicity – but suggesting there are EU rules that ban cows from hillsides or from leaving their usual deposits is a load of bull.

This is pretty obvious when you think about it: hikers enjoying an autumn walk in the Alpine foothills will come across more cud-chewing cows than they can count, with their rear ends as naked as nature intended, except on one farm where cattle with bedsheets tied round their bottoms seem to have been fighting for grazing room with photographers.

Of course, the British media herd has stampeded all over this story with the Daily Star screaming “EU chiefs spark outrage over plans to force cattle to wear NAPPIES” and The Sun finding an imaginative pun with “Sirloin cloth” and an equally imaginative version of the facts referring to “EU proposals banning pats from Alpine slopes”.

Some media (Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Independent) have the good grace somewhere in their articles – though mostly near the end – to quote the Commission pointing out that no EU law bans Alpine grazing or requires cows to be fitted with nappies.

But many online commenters have been mooved to outrage – one measured contribution accuses the EU of “destroying the world” – which suggests that, as so often, it is the headlines rather than the inconvenient details that have remained in many readers’ minds.

The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn, meanwhile, gives full vent to his anger – and also, to be fair, some splendid puns – saying: “This is of course the kind of complete madness we have come to expect when Euro bureaucracy meets eco-fanaticism”.

He continues: “all sense of proportion goes straight out of the barn door” and “no doubt it will be dismissed by the EU as another myth”.

Well, yes on both counts.

There certainly is EU legislation on nitrates but there is nothing new about it. The 1991 Nitrates Directive aims to control pollution and improve water quality, for very good reason.

Excessive concentrations of nitrates from livestock manure used as fertiliser, as well as from organic and chemical fertilisers, leaking into ground and surface waters have been a major source of water pollution in Europe.

High nitrate levels damage human health, especially vulnerable people like pregnant women and babies, leading to the World Health Organisation establishing a threshold for nitrates contents in drinking waters of a maximum of 50 mg/l.

A disproportionate presence of nitrates in surface waters also promotes excessive algae growth, which chokes out other marine life.

In 2011, for example, algae partly created by fertiliser residue blighted British canals and lakes.

But EU rules – decided by elected Ministers and MEPs, not Brussels bureaucrats – do not stipulate in detail how member states should go about keeping nitrate levels under control.

National and local authorities are best placed to decide that and the German authorities are currently revising their national nitrates action programme.

The headlines were sparked by a statement issued by the Bavarian Farm Union protesting about those national revisions.

But the Commission does not envisage the German authorities proposing to ban grazing animals from Alpine slopes or any other German hillside.

So to sum up, any journalist worth his or her salt would want to milk a “cattle in nappies” story complete with cow-pious photos featuring a traditionally Bavarian-hatted farmer as supporting cast for the be-nappied and bewildered ruminants.

Sadly for some, however, there is no Brussels dairy defecation diaper diktat.

It seems almost a pity that the truth should need to, erm, intrude.




EU aid for Peru – fighting illegal drugs and child malnutrition

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Newspapers(1) who recently ridiculed the EU’s support for anti-drug programmes in Peru grossly misrepresented the facts by neglecting to mention that most of the money concerned is not for “rehabilitating drug addicts” but actually aims to prevent the production of illegal drugs.

The ultimate objective is therefore to cut the amount of drugs being sold in the streets of Europe’s cities, not least in the UK, which has one of the highest rates of illegal drug use in Europe.

At the same time, this EU support, which as the reports said amounted to about £25m over the period 2007-13, helps those previously involved in producing and trafficking illegal drugs to transfer into alternative (and legal) economic activities. There is evidence of this policy working: for example, in 2013, coca cultivation areas were significantly reduced.

Other EU support for Peru focuses on fighting poverty and child malnutrition – which has been cut by one-fifth in Peru’s poorest districts in recent years. So this work saves lives and protects children from severe distress.

Total EU development support for Peru for the period 2007-13 was €135 million (£107m) with a further €67 million (£52m) programmed for 2014-17. Peru, despite being classified as a middle income country in Latin America, remains a developing country with huge inequalities and social problems. Working with Peru to help solve these is in the EU’s interests as it can help build political and commercial ties, as well as reducing incentives for drug trafficking and other crime and also for illegal migration.

Finally, it should be noted that both the general policy on support for Peru and other developing countries and the allocation of funding to specific programmes are not simply laid down by the European Commission but are based on political decisions and day to day oversight by Member States, including the UK.

(1) “EU gives £25m to treat drug addicts in Peru“, Daily Telegraph, 26 July 2014 and EU’s ‘barking mad’  £25 million taxpayers donation to rehabilitate Peruvian drug addicts“, Daily Express, 27 July 2014.

Weekend press watch, 5-6 July 2014

Monday, July 7th, 2014

This is a new occasional feature on our blog, given that weekends tend to be a peak time for – to say the least – contentious coverage of EU-related matters

Non-existent EC proposal alarms motorists

The Sun on Sunday on 6 July ran a prominent story headlined “No tanks: EU in 3p a litre hike”.

It is true that the UK Petroleum Industry Association (PIA) had some time ago expressed opposition to an earlier proposal to label oil products according to the environmental impact of extracting them.

The PIAs view that this would raise pump prices was contentious at the time.

More importantly, as both the Commission (EC) and the UK Department for Transport (DFT) made clear to the Sun on Sunday, the proposal the PIA was referring to has been withdrawn after Member States did not agree on it.

Both the EC and DoT also told the paper that the completely new proposal expected in due course would not put up pump prices.

So the Sun’s editorial asking “Is there anyone in Brussels with a basic idea of reality?” seems rather ironic given that the entire angle of its report was based on a proposal that no longer exists.

What is more its reference to “green crap” seems to suggest a rejection of all policies designed to protect the environment and tackle climate change, despite the fact that most scientists say that if we don’t cut greenhouse gases, there will be more pollution, more floods, huge clean up costs and parts of the world could become uninhabitable, creating millions of refugees.

Voluntary UK opt-in becomes “EU power grab” in the Telegraph

This weekend, the UK’s proposal to opt back-in to certain EU justice measures, following its decision earlier this year to opt out en masse, has been in the news.

Obviously this is a subject of interest to the media and it is unsurprising that it has made some front pages.

But it is bizarre to describe the UK debating whether to choose to opt-in to some EU arrangements as an “EU power grab” as the Daily Telegraph headline did on Saturday 5 July.

The Telegraph goes on to describe the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as “allowing foreign judges to extradite Britons for misdemeanours committed on holiday”, making it sound rather as if the EAW focuses mostly on non-payment of parking fines in Magaluf. In reality, it applies only to offences for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison

In fact – as the Telegraph does concede further down – the EAW has seen terrorists extradited back to the UK to face justice. It also allowed the return of the schoolteacher who, in 2012, abducted a 15 year-old girl to France and has helped put paid to the “Costa del Crime” phenomenon whereby the UK’s most notorious gangsters could retreat safely to southern Spain, among other places in Europe.

“Handing policing powers to Brussels” or cooperation to tackle crime?

The Times saw the UK opt-in proposals as “handing policing powers to Brussels”. Of course, this is all about a legal framework for cooperation to tackle criminals, to make sure justice works across borders and to guarantee the right of victims and defendants. This is not “transferring policing powers to Europe” or conversely “clawing back powers from Brussels” in the words of the Daily Mail.

In the Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, two star columnists took rather different views of the EAW. On p27 Peter Hitchens (1) calls it “an outrageous EU intrusion into our legal system” a rather odd view given that it has only ever applied because the UK and other Member States wanted it and will only apply in the UK now if the government opts in to it.

On P35, James Forsyth redresses the balance by saying “if Britain has not been allowed back into the Arrest Warrant by the end of this year, this country will struggle to extradite alleged criminals and terror suspects from other EU Member States. This could cause major security problems and is particularly alarming given the current warnings about terrorism in Europe.”

Finally, it is also interesting to note that some journalists who periodically cite the EAW as an infringement of civil liberties – though there are multiple safeguards, considerably reinforced over the last few years – regularly clamour for the removal of “foreign” criminals from the UK and for tackling misuse of free movement, which are things the EAW often helps achieve.

(1) Our original text referred mistakenly to the late Christopher Hitchens – we have corrected this and apologised

The Sunday Telegraph’s apparent conversion to the virtues of sugar quotas

Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph – not a noted supporter of Common Agricultural Policy quotas in the past – ran a story based on an NGO view that the EU agreement to lift sugar quotas in September 2017 was “perverse”, as it might make sugar cheaper, cut prices and increase consumption, leading to public health fears.

Unusual for such a free market supporting, “nanny state” opposing newspaper to take a critical view of a measure – or rather the removal of one – because it might make supermarket prices cheaper. Unusual too for a UK newspaper to imply support for the French position – which had been to maintain quotas longer – against the UK government’s view which had favoured lifting the quotas two years earlier in 2015.

Perhaps the opportunity to bash the EU for doing exactly what much of the UK press had long clamoured for – reforming the CAP, with full UK support, to scrap market distorting measures that can hand excessive profits to some producers while hurting other businesses – was just too good to miss.

Of course, quotas were not introduced in the first place for public health reasons but to maintain price levels for EU sugar beet producers. It is highly debatable whether their removal will increase consumption.

Various policy options for discouraging excessive sugar consumption are available: for example, taxes (applied in France to fizzy drinks), pressure on manufacturers to act voluntarily and/or public information campaigns.

Inalienable right to landfill?

Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph, asserts that we should continue to bury waste in holes in the ground, despite evidence that this can corrupt the water table and lead to noxious gases being released.

Mr Booker says: “But now our real government, in Brussels, has decided we must step up our recycling targets, to the point where, by 2030, we can ‘virtually eliminate landfill’”

Quite apart from the strange suggestion that the UK’s real government is in Brussels (more on related assertions here), the European Commission has indeed proposed more ambitious recycling targets.

But as ever, it is elected national Ministers and the European Parliament that will decide whether to adopt those targets and if they do, for each Member State individually to decide how it will meet them.

Mr Booker also says that “for the purpose of meeting our EU targets, waste is defined as being “recycled” at the point where it is collected. What happens next is that much is not recycled at all. It may be shipped abroad to places like China, while millions of tons are still just quietly buried.”

This is not true.

The existing Waste Framework Directive (Articles 10 and 11) is clear that the existing targets refer not to the separation of materials at collection but to “preparation for recovery, re-use or recycling”.

Article 34 of the Waste Shipment Directive forbids the export of waste for disposal to non-EU/EFTA countries such as China

The EC President is not all powerful

Last week (29 June) the Sunday Times Columnist Dominic Lawson stated that “the president of the commission has the sole right to promulgate EU-wide legislation.” This is, of course, inaccurate, so the newspaper agreed to print this week our short letter below:

Dominic Lawson referred last week to the European Commission President having the sole right to “promulgate EU-wide legislation”. In fact the European Commission only proposes EU laws – elected Ministers and MEPs decide – and the President cannot make a proposal alone, he or she needs the majority backing of Commissioners.



EU recommendations on economic policies: not “interference” but a process in which UK plays a full part

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Recently, articles in among others the Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph screamed about EU “interference” in the UK economy, “dramatic interventions in UK policy” and “Brussels” telling the Prime Minister to “tear up his economic policy” (that was definitely not what “Brussels” had said).

This was all because the European Commission had the temerity to propose some “country specific recommendations” on the UK’s economic policy.

But far from the recommendations constituting unwarranted and unwelcome “interference” in national economies, the UK, along with the rest of the member states, decided they should be made and the decisions on their final form will be taken by EU leaders and Finance Ministers, not by the Commission.


This is all part of a well-established process whereby the Commission’s proposed recommendations are discussed and decided upon by all EU heads of government – this year that will happen at the EU summit on 26-27 June – and by Finance Ministers.

In this way, Member States – and not the Commission – collectively have the final say on the texts of these recommendations on what each country needs to do individually to promote sustainable growth and jobs.

The recommendations are not binding on the UK and the process gives the UK an opportunity to have its say on policies in other EU countries.

That opportunity is a valuable one, because half of the UK’s exports go to the rest of the EU, so it matters very much to British businesses that other member states adopt the right policies to consolidate recovery, restore sustainable economic growth – and boost demand for UK products and services.

Equally, policy in the UK matters to other EU countries: if another near collapse of parts of the banking sector or property market were to happen and plunge the UK back into crisis, that would adversely affect everyone in the EU.

This whole process of adopting recommendations on each others’ policies was decided upon by the member states themselves, including the UK, as part of the so-called “European Semester” process underpinning the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs, itself also approved by all member states.

Incidentally, the Commission is currently conducting a full public consultation – open until October – on the next phase of Europe 2020

Furthermore, there have been such economic policy recommendations, in one form or another, ever since the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

This is in line with the principle in Article 121 of the Lisbon Treaty (Article 99 of the previous Treaty) – again of course signed by all member states – that “member states shall regard their economic policies as a matter of common concern and shall coordinate them within the Council.”

The current process is explained in full here:

The Eurozone countries are subject to binding macro-economic targets, which they agreed themselves to reinforce radically under the revised Stability and Growth Pact and other mechanisms.

They did this in order to help prevent a repeat of the economic crisis by stopping reckless policies – such as running up excessive public or private debt – in some Eurozone member states undermining the economies of all the rest and indeed of non-Eurozone member states such as the UK.

But Eurozone member states are free to achieve those binding targets in whatever way they think best.

Only if they failed to achieve them could the fact of ignoring the recommendations – if they do choose to ignore them – be taken into account in deciding whether sanctions should be applied.

As discussed above, no such sanctions could apply to the UK.

In conclusion, while the UK government and the media of course have the perfect right to dispute the content of the recommendations – and the 26-27 June summit will provide an opportunity to do that at the very highest level – the pretence that this is some kind of unwarranted interference in the UK’s economy has no basis in fact.

The EU budget, UK contributions to it and suggestions “Brussels” is demanding £500m more from UK taxpayers

Friday, May 30th, 2014

We have in recent days seen lurid headlines – certainly not discouraged by the UK Treasury – about “Brussels” demanding an extra £500m from UK taxpayers.

The truth behind that is below.

But first, some general points. The media portrayal of the contribution the UK makes to the EU budget as excessive compared to other richer Member States and money down the drain is utterly misleading.

The best estimate (there are several variations depending on the exact basis for calculation) of the UK net contribution for 2012 (no figures are yet available for 2013) is EUR 7.366bn or very roughly £6bn. This – £16m a day, or about £2 per citizen per week, rather than the £55m a day that some have claimed – is the gross sum the UK puts into the EU budget minus the money that flows back to the UK, whether via government bodies or directly to beneficiaries. This figure is referred to as the Operating Budgetary Balance in this interactive table.

This £6bn represents considerably less than 1 % of total UK public spending.

In per capita terms, the UK is nowhere near the largest net contributor but at the highest the equal eighth biggest. It is behind  Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg , Netherlands, France and Belgium and very roughly level with Austria and Finland.

What does the UK get back in wider benefits? The CBI estimates that EU membership brings a net gain of between £62-£78bn a year into the UK economy, so well over ten times the net contribution.

So some in context reporting of EU budgetary issues would be welcome. This guide to how the EU budget works and how it invests in the UK – with examples of projects – provides some of that context.

Coming back to the alleged “Brussels demand” for £500m more from the UK.

The European Commission has had to inform Member States that it is likely to need an extra EUR 2.16bn in national contributions for 2014 to meet spending commitments.

This would not in proportionate terms mean £500m from the UK, but rather about EUR270m/£230m.

The rest of the money needed, about EUR 2.57bn/£2.10m would, as is normal practice, come from competition fines imposed on big businesses that have been caught cheating customers.

So why is this extra money needed?

In basic terms, because Member States both set the EU budget and spend most of it (80% is allocated at national level), and they have spent more than the budget they themselves set.

Some of that additional spending was unforeseen, such as extra help for Ukraine (the UK strongly supported that) and additional money to tackle youth unemployment. Of course, such investment in getting young people off the dole in the end saves vastly more than what it costs.

Other spending commitments the Member States have made over and above the level at which they set the budget are linked to longstanding EU programmes.

In all cases, the bills will need to be paid and the Member States are demanding that the Commission pay those bills without having provided the means for it to do so. The Commission of course cannot print money.

The bottom line is that some national politicians take a tough line over the headline levels of the EU budget – which are negotiated in the glare of media attention at EU summits – but want to see any cuts in funding implemented in Member States other than their own.

The UK government has told the media that the Commission should find the extra money by reorganising existing funds.

That of course would mean taking money away from beneficiaries that have already been promised funds – and the very same national politicians have no intention of allowing that to happen.

It is important to point out that the UK is far from the only Member State which agrees spending commitments and calls upon the Commission to produce money out of a hat to meet them while refusing any cuts to EU funds for their own country.

But to take some British examples, despite overall cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, direct payments to UK farmers are projected to remain steady. About EUR 6bn/£5bn is due to be spent on European Social Fund and regional projects in England alone. The UK is the leading beneficiary of EU research and innovation funding and could get about EUR 1.5bn/£1.2bn in 2014. British young people, academics and other participants in the Erasmus+ scheme are estimated to be getting about EUR120m/£100m.

Is the UK government willing to see the money to fill the hole in the budget come from cutting payments to UK farmers or students, closing down research projects or slashing job creation schemes in British cities? No.

No other Member States are stepping forward to volunteer savings from “their” part of the budget either. The situation is rather as if someone decides to spend more than expected on their credit card and then declines to pay the bill.

The only viable solution is to put more money – a limited amount when looked at in the context of overall public spending, given the overall EU budget is around 1% of GDP and EUR 2.16bn is around 2% of that EU budget – into the pot to meet the commitments the Member States have themselves freely decided to make

Important to note, too, that this will not mean going above the ceiling that national leaders and the European Parliament agreed for 2014 in the seven-year budget, or “multi-annual financial framework”, which was painstakingly negotiated last year but only above the considerably lower figure finally earmarked for 2014 in separate annual budget negotiations.



A whiff of an anti-EU story – but updating perfume rules makes sense

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Between 1% and 3% of people in Europe – so between 600,000 and nearly 2 million people in the UK – suffer from allergic reactions to certain fragrances, which might be included not only in perfumes but products such as soap and shampoo. Some of those reactions can trigger long-term problems, like eczema

Overall use of fragrances is increasing and so are the numbers of people with allergies to them.

So the European Commission put draft proposals on the table some months ago to revise the EU Cosmetics regulation to ensure products on the shelves are safe and to try to prevent more people developing allergies – taking into account scientific advice from a committee of member states’ experts, who published their opinion in June 2012.

No fragrances and certainly not Chanel No 5 will be banned – some may need to adjust their formula and indeed are already doing so.

These proposals would ban a very small number – three, HICC, atranol and choloatranol – of the vast number of ingredients used in fragrances, launch further analysis on limiting the concentrations of eight others (which between them contain 12 chemicals which are potential allergens) and introduce new labelling requirements .

The approach the Commisison has put forward is a sensible compromise between the interests of non-allergic consumers, people who are allergic or susceptible to become so and the industry – and many in the industry recognise this.

Of course, in the final analysis, it in the interests of the industry that the number of consumers experiencing allergic reactions to its products is kept to a minimum.

LVMH released this comment to the press – “The European Commission approach guarantees the security of consumers and preserves Europe’s olfactive heritage”.

The topic is now in the media spotlight again following the end of a 12 week public consultation  on the draft proposals.

The media has sniffed an anti-EU story (for example Now EU rules threaten future of Chanel No 5; Chanel and Dior fall prey to EU ingredient regulation; Iconic Chanel No 5 perfume to reformulate under new EU regulations; EU bureaucrats take aim at Chanel No 5) but far from “Brussels targeting the perfume industry” the committee’s opinion in fact recommended more extensive measures than the ones in the Commission’s draft proposals.

Our earlier blog piece here refers and includes links to earlier media articles – pointing to the need to address the very allergy issues behind the current draft proposals.

Another interesting such article is here from the Daily Mail: Is your scent making you ill? Today’s obsession with perfuming everything from candles to bin liners could be to blame.

After fully analysing the views of the industry, consumer groups and other respondents to the consultation, the Commission will put forward final proposals after the summer, aiming to ensure the burden on industry is as light as is consistent with the proper protection of consumers and their health.

These final proposals will then be voted upon by the Standing Committee on Cosmetics which is made up of Member States’ representatives. After which MEPs and EU government ministers will have three months to scrutinise the new rules and if they so choose, to raise objections. If not opposed, the new rules will be formally adopted and the changes could come into force in 2015, though with a transition period for the industry to adapt.



EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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