Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The march of integration

Just to show that, despite the collapse of the constitution, nothing really has changed, José Manuel Barroso was in Parma yesterday, officially inaugurating the latest in the series of EU agencies, this one the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Its location a classic example of pork-barrel politics, Parma was selected in preference to Helsinki after the personal intervention of Berlusconi, who wanted the kudos of one of the "prestige" EU agencies being brought to Italy. Operationally, it is a nightmare as Parma is poorly served with international communications and the Authority must liaise closely not only with Brussels but with its sister organisation, the Food and Veterinary Office, which is based near Dublin.

More importantly, the establishment of this and other agencies marks a significant ratching up of the integration process, a deliberate move intended to increase the visibility of "Europe" by ensuring that obscure technocratic functions are given a specific, high profile European identity.

This strategy was devised in response to the meagre turnout in the 1999 Euro-elections and unveiled in the White Paper on European Governance in February 2000. Ironically, the choice of Parma was decided at the abortive summit in December 2003, when European leaders failed to agree on the text of the EU constitution.

Its propaganda function is clearly evident from the Commission press release, with Barroso crowing that the Authority had an important role to play in boosting the confidence of consumers, adding: "EU citizens can trust that sound and independent scientific advice is being used to ensure the highest level of consumer protection and food safety throughout Europe."

Commissioner for health and consumer protection, Markos Kyprianou, positively glowed with pride as he warbled that the EFSA could "provide quality, accessible scientific advice, which will allow timely, effective decision-making and enable the high level of EU food safety to be maintained." (Note: not "food safety" but "EU food safety".)

Interestingly, the executive director is Geoffrey Podger, formerly the chief executive of the British Food Standards Agency, another of those suave, calculating civil servants who have seen the career enhancement opportunities afforded by the EU and joined the gravy train.

And gravy train it is. For the current year its budget is €38 million and in 2006 it should reach €46 million. At the moment it employs 65 "experts" and this figure should rise to 100 at the end of the year, bringing the total, with ancillary staff, to about 300. They will work with a network of 500 external scientific experts, mostly paid by member states.

Podger claimes the Authority has "already accomplished considerable work in publishing more than 200 scientific opinions in two years" and, no doubt, it will continue to churn out reams of paperwork over the coming years, all in the interests of promoting a European identity. Thus do we see the continuing march of integration.

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