Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Saving the planet or protecting one's industry?

German Green politicians, bottle makers and drinks producers (both soft and not so soft, like the ubiquitous German beer) are trying to minimize waste, which is good for the environment, which is good for the planet. Right?

Wrong, says the European Commission. They are simply trying to undermine the single market and protect their producers. On the recommendation of the outgoing Internal Market Commissioner, Frits Bolkestein, the Commission is taking Germany to the ECJ. Incidentally, the incoming Commission will be continuing the case, whether it likes it or not. So much (yet again) for that new broom we keep hearing about.

The problem is that the law, introduced in January 2003, and reaffirmed on Friday by the Upper House of the German Parliament, requires a mandatory deposit of 25 eurocents for every non-refillable bottle and can of beer, mineral water and carbonated drink. Until then, although 75 per cent of beverages sold in Germany had to be in reusable containers there was no mandatory deposit. It is the latest addition to the extraordinarily expensive packaging regulation that has propelled the Commission into action.

Foreign companies are complaining that these recycling laws are losing them sales, particularly as in France, a country less interested in saving the planet, it is illegal to bottle water in reusable containers. Most companies would find it prohibitively expensive to do anything but market all drinks across the EU in disposable packaging.

Far it be from us to cast doubt on the good intentions of the environment-conscious German politicians but it is worth pointing out that an astonishing proportion of legislation and regulation, introduced supposedly to save the planet and improve the quality of life, as defined by the regulators, seem to result in protection for certain favoured industry.

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