Saturday, November 04, 2006

Never pick a fight with a sweep

The wisdom of this is self-evident but, it seems, the EU commission is preparing to ignore it – according to the International Herald Tribune.

More specifically, it is set to take on the German chimney sweep fraternity, a uniformed cadre which has its origins as an organised group going back to the Middle Ages.

Unlike other trades, chimney sweeps in Germany enjoy a near monopoly on their business — something that has not really changed since the first guidelines overseeing the profession were set down in the 17th century. Though the law technically allows foreigners to become sweeps, the reality is that numerous barriers make it all but impossible for non-Germans to find work in the trade.

It is this that the EU is set to challenge, regarding it as a breach of the treaty provisions of freedom of establishment.

As it stands, there are 7,888 districts across Germany, each one assigned one sweep who may employ one or two helpers. Besides keeping chimneys clean, they also perform maintenance and annual safety checks on modern heating systems.

This may be the great obstacle to the Commission's plans. Berlin sweep Erhard Feller, in a story run by the Telegraph last year, pointed out that the German system is "for people's safety…". "In Belgium where there is no such law, some 300 people die each year from gas poisoning and chimney defects. In Germany the figure is zero," he asserted.

In this health 'n' safety obsessed culture of ours, even the European Union might be advised to think again, and doff its [top] hat to conventional wisdom. The sweeps could always lend it one.


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