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As transparent as a black box

Posted by Richard Wednesday, April 06, 2005

One almost warms to the judge advocate of the European Court of Justice in announcing his ruling on the food supplements directive, describing it, according to The Daily Telegraph "as transparent as a black box".

But two issues not rehearsed by the Telegraph piece should be borne in mind. Firstly, while our Europhile MEPs keep telling us what a wonderful job they do in the parliament, revising legislation, improving it, and keeping the commission on its toes, this law, described – rightly – by Peter Aldis of Holland and Barret as "a shoddy piece of legislation", went right through the system virtually unscathed.

At the time the law was going through parliament, it was subject to one of the most sustained public lobbying campaigns in the history of the institution, which was loftily dismissed as being "organised", and ignored completely. This affair, therefore, represents a major failing of the parliament to do its own job properly, even in its own terms.

Secondly, it must also be remembered that big business was in favour of this law. As we reported from the Independent in January:

Some large chains, such as Boots, have already reformulated their products to meet the new EU rules and say their customers will see no difference when the directive comes into force… "Consumers won't see a huge change," a spokeswoman said. "We fully support this EU directive."
This speaks volumes for big business, which often benefits from regulation as a mechanism which drives smaller competition out of business and enables it to increase its market share (and prices). Compared with, say, the cost of a major advertising campaign, regulatory compliance costs which achieve the same effect, are often considered a bargain.

This is why you can rarely rely on industry to do the decent thing and oppose regulations in principle. Often, it is more interested in seeking a competitive advantage rather than address the issues, in which context – to put it crudely – the commission and industry are often pissing in the same pot.

For industry now to oppose the REACH directive, therefore, must indicate how bad indeed this legislation must be.