Stories about the EU’s food regulation excesses should be taken with a pinch of salt
Yet another Euro-outrage has been averted,this time for real. In the face of public derision,the European Commission has withdrawn an order requiring that restaurants remove the jars and dipping bowls in which olive oil has been served from classical times and replace them with tamper-proof,professionally packaged bottles which cannot be refilled with low-grade oil. The grounds were health and quality assurance but large-scale bottlers would have benefited and artisanal presses marginalised. Politicians are claiming that the withdrawal shows that the EU is responsive to public opinion. The public says that the mere tabling of this order shows that the bureaucrats of Brussels remain as barmy as ever.
However,the stories of Brussels barminess that appear in the press are frequently exaggerations. For instance,the EU is perceived to have banned curvy cucumbers and bent bananas,though it has only attempted to classify produce. Most of these scares originate in the British press and are designed to excite Euro-sceptic readers. The longest-running scare is that the UK will have to turn from feet to metres and,soberingly,from pints to litres. These stories neglect to mention that in 2000,the UK had committed to go metric. The story that Europe was banning corgis swings on a technical misreading; rascally European lawmakers had not really planned to part the Queen of England from her pets. And the story that Brussels is renaming Bombay Mix to Mumbai Mix is tabloid fiction.
For a change,here is a real story in which the Commission has paid heed to opinion and withdrawn a bizarre rule. But now perhaps the EU can put the oil crisis behind it and focus on more urgent matters,such as the eternally fragile national economies in its midst.