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Daily Express’s “11 barmy EU rules” either do not exist or are rather sensible

September 2nd, 2015

A pop-up on the Express web site, appearing for some time now via various pages featuring EU “news” and prominent in online searches, is headlined “Brussels’ craziest decisions.”

It cites “the top eleven unusual rules proposed by Brussels that seem too barmy to be true”.

That is because about half of these stories are simply not true. And the others are seriously misleading.

Here’s the Express list:

An EU copyright proposal will make it illegal to post photos of the London Eye and the Angel of the North under infringement law

Not true. In fact, one committee in the European Parliament wanted to end national exemptions from copyright law currently granted for photos of architectural and public art works. They were advocating only that commercial use of such images should be subject to copyright. The full parliament rejected even that idea, the European Commission never proposed it and Member States did not discuss it. Details here.

In an unforgettable ruling, the Brussels bosses were found to have a strange fear of bananas with ‘abnormal curvature’ after they were banned them (sic) until 2009

Not whole truth. There are rules on fruit quality in every developed jurisdiction. If there were not one set of rules for the whole EU, each Member State would have its own, creating havoc for transport and trade. So national agriculture ministers and the industry in the 1990s asked the European Commission to draft common legislation on this. Some rules still exist. But they have been reformed to cut red tape to a minimum.

Water bottles are BANNED from claiming to solve dehydration under an oddball EU rule

True but justified. That is because drinking water, whether from a tap or a bottle, is not enough to treat dehydration. That is why hospitals put dehydrated people on drips. There is an EU system – necessary in a borderless single market – where advertisers have to provide evidence for claims they want to make about the health benefits of products. On an issue like this, decisions are based on scientific advice. Experts – including in the Guardian here – demolished the idea that this ruling was in some way ridiculous.

Don’t let the EU catch you with flimsy washing up gloves. The EU imposed stringent testing on the household product to withstand all types of pressure and temperatures.

Misleading and incomplete.

Consumers don’t want shoddy goods that do not work, like washing up gloves that fall apart or which are not properly waterproof. And EU producers and importers of good quality products should not have to face unfair competition from sub-standard imports.

Professional washing-up gloves, garden gloves, etc. are already covered by specific legislation which ensures protective equipment is safe and works properly, by requiring manufacturers to certify performance based on standard criteria.

The tests involved – which the manufacturers do themselves – are simply about making sure the products concerned do what it says on the labels. It is then up to national authorities to check up on that and get sub-standard products taken off the shelves.

The EU is currently updating this protective equipment legislation. One small issue is whether it should also cover washing up gloves used at home, or whether existing general consumer rights are sufficient.

EU laws are made by democratically elected Ministers and MEPs, so the final decision will be part of an overall agreement between Member States and the European Parliament.

All developed jurisdictions have rules on product safety and quality. In a single market like the EU, there needs to be one set of rules rather than 28 different ones in 28 countries. That makes life easier for businesses and saves consumers money.

Brussels bureaucrats are fed up with Europeans confusing turnips and swedes and made sure supermarkets label them both correctly

True only in so far as supermarkets have to put the correct labels on food. Turnips and swedes are different things. But perhaps the Express is thinking here of another story in 2010 claiming that Brussels had interfered in Cornish pasty recipes – in fact the European Commission had merely accepted an application from Cornish pasty producers for an EU quality label.

Is it a jam? Or a fruit spread? Or maybe a conserve? Thanks to the EU a jam cannot be called jam unless it has at least 60 per cent sugar

Not true. National authorities can allow products with less than 60% sugar to be called jam. But there are different national traditions and some national authorities do not want to. Indeed, when the UK – not “Brussels” – issued proposals to allow such flexibility in Britain, the tabloid press, including the Express, objected violently…and blamed the EU for undermining great British jam, which they argued must have at least 60 per cent sugar or it would be “gloop”. Details here.

Vacuum cleaners with powerful motors had to be binned after an EU law to cut energy use

Misleading. The new rules banned energy guzzling vacuum cleaners that waste energy and lead to unnecessarily high electricity bills, not ones with powerful suction. Nothing had to be “binned”. Vacuum cleaners already in the home can continue to be used and those already in shops can still be sold. Full information here.

In 2010 the EU were close to banning up to a million drivers from the road after ‘EU experts’ claimed diabetics were ‘unfit’ to drive

Not true. No-one is banned simply because they are diabetic and no-one ever proposed that they should be. No-one ever claimed that “diabetics were unfit to drive”. There was never any chance of “a million drivers being banned from the road.”

But diabetes or treatment for it can cause or contribute to medical conditions which – depending on the degree – can make driving dangerous. As anyone licenced to drive in one Member State can drive in the rest, there is an obvious need for a consistent EU approach. Three eminent British practitioners were among eleven ‘EU experts’- as the Express calls them, inverted commas included – who advised the European Commission in 2006 on revisions to existing rules. Their report is here. Limited changes were in the end made by a 2009 EU law which the UK implemented in 2011. The Department for Transport estimated that “between 705 and 1 410 drivers might be adversely affected by the changes; while 2 000 or so might wish to take advantage of the relaxed standards for lorry and bus drivers.” The House of Commons Library issued a comprehensive report on the EU and UK rules.

The EU forbid shopkeepers from selling eggs by the dozen – now they have to be sold by weight

Not true. A quick look in any supermarket will show that eggs continue to be sold by the dozen – and by the half-dozen and very often also singly. The Commission and European Parliament denied this daft story already in 2010.

Under 2009 directives, it’s okay to eat a horse – just make sure you don’t own it as a pet. After two million pet horses ended up on the dinner table each year, the EU banned people from eating their pets

Not true. You could eat your own pet horse if you wanted to, though that is not known to be common practice. But it is true that eating horsemeat is popular in some countries, so it is important that people raising and slaughtering horses for meat cannot avoid food safety and traceability rules by passing them off as pets. To give one example, domestic horses are sometimes treated with the drug phenylbutazone but animals treated with it are not considered safe for human consumption. All horses have for many years needed to have a “passport” and since 2009 this specifies among other things whether or not they are destined to enter the commercial food chain. The UK government supports these rules and explains them here.

In another seemingly top EU priority, the meddling European lawmakers made it illegal for prunes to be sold as a superfood that fights bowel problems

Not true. After inconclusive supporting evidence was submitted with a first application – in fact, not every scientific study agrees on the digestive effect of prunes – producers put forward an amended application and the European Food Safety Authority in 2012 recommended that advertisers should be able to claim that “dried plums/prunes can contribute to normal bowel function.” This is another example – like the water issue above – of the EU’s science-based system to authorise wordings when health is at stake, to avoid consumers being misled by advertisers inventing or overstating the benefits of their product. This was not “a top EU priority” and nobody was “meddling”: the producers themselves applied for authorisation.

While we are at it, another widespread “barmy EU” story that we can refute is the idea that the EU has “banned hairdressers from wearing high heels”. In fact, the hairdressing industry – employers and trade unions – asked the European Commission to propose comprehensive health and safety legislation specific to the industry. The Commission declined on the grounds this did not need to be regulated at EU level.

But does the EU always get it right? Of course not, no-one does. For example, the proposal to ban bowls of olive oil on restaurant tables, after some Member States and stakeholders lobbied for it, was a mistake. But the Commission recognised this and withdrew it before it became EU law.

More generally, all EU legislation contains review clauses requiring the Commission to assess how things have worked out in practice and propose changes if necessary.

What is more, the Juncker Commission has honoured its promise to reinforce safeguards to ensure EU rules do not impose unnecessary red tape.

Finally worth mentioning – again – that EU laws are not “Brussels diktats” decreed by “bureaucrats”. They are made by elected ministers and MEPs, who amend and then either adopt or reject proposals drafted by the Commission, often after Member States have requested it to act.

Sometimes those laws set out principles and allow the Commission itself to adopt detailed secondary regulation based on those principles. Votes by Member States or the European Parliament can overturn such Commission decisions. Similarly, much UK secondary legislation does not automatically require a vote in Parliament but can be struck down if Parliament objects.

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