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Good for the goose?

Posted by Richard Saturday, July 10, 2004

This one presents real problems for Eurosceptics determined to find only evil in the machinations of the European Commission.

This source of all evil has accused nine French banks of running a "secret agreement" to carve up the market for the issuance of cash cards and drive up charges. It has also accused the Groupement des Cartes Bancaires, which manages the bank card payment system in France, of overseeing the alleged cartel.

The banks named are BNP-Paribas, Caisses d'Epargne, Credit Agricole, Credit Mutuel, CIC, Credit Lyonnais, La Poste, Natexis Banques Populaires and Societe Generale.

The Commission has accused the banks of clubbing together with the GCB to keep out new entrants to the card market, such as the banking arms of large retailers and smaller banks, including foreign ones.

"The objections relate to a secret agreement on bank payment cards," the Commission said, "…the agreement prevents new entrants from offering consumers CB cards at a lower price and restricts technical innovation by limiting the issuance of CB cards with new functions."

It sent a "statement of objections" to the banks and the GCB demanding answers within three months, following raids on their offices that it said yielded secret documents proving the existence of a cartel.

Three points arise from this: first it seems the Frogs, as always, are acting in their usual anti-competitive way, totally disregarding the consumer interest; secondly, the French government, as always, has done nothing about it; and thirdly, the only organisation that has the clout to intervene is the Commission.

Many soft Eurosceptics point to this type of action as justifying the European Union and, in respect of France, they may have a point. However, when push comes to shove, the likelihood of the Commission making any fines stick – if it gets that far – are remote.

But, as far as any such anti-consumer behaviour in the UK goes, it is pretty certain that the government – if not the media – would pick it up, and some action would be taken. We, in the UK, therefore, do not need the EU's Commission to sort out our own affairs.

And that is the point for the brighter Eurosceptics among us. By all means, if the continentals have such dire governments that they need the actions of outside agencies to make them – and their commerce and institutions - behave properly, then by all means they should join together and create an organisation like the EU.

But that is no justification for the British – who do tend to have a better record for equitable governance - joining in. In this case, what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.