Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Too much to handle

An indication of the breadth of activity of this construct we call the European Union comes in a story in The Times today.

One minute we are having to come to terms with internal affairs ministers getting to grip with terrorism, on another plane of existence we are troubling ourselves about the arcane, technical issues involved in defence integration, then we are exploring the role of aid in the relief of poverty in Africa, and now what to we get? Vitamin supplements.

According to The Times and other media sources, health groups who had taken the new EU "food supplement directive" to the ECJ have finally lost their appeal. The law now comes into force on 1 August, which means that thousands of preparations will become illegal and hundreds of shops – mainly health food stores – will go out of business.

A "positive list" of 112 substances passed fit for consumption has been drawn up, which includes vitamin C, calcium and iron. But many popular substances, such as selenium yeast, tin, manganese and vitamin K2, have been omitted and are subject to 505 separate appeals.

Interestingly, the ECJ had previously found in favour of the apellants so this final decision came as a surprise to politicians and campaigners. The ruling went against the opinion of the court's advocate general, who said in April that the directive should be scrapped for contravening basic EU principles of "legal protection, legal certainty and sound administration".

To a lot of people, this is a very important issue, and typifies the encroachment of EU law into every "nook and cranny" of our lives. The trouble is, how does one keep a sense of perspective? How can objectionable interference of the EU, eroding civil liberties in the name of tackling terrorism, be put on a par with banning vitamins and other preparations, regarded as a gross and unnecessary interference in people's right to make free choices of essentially harmless and often beneficial products?

That is the problem sometimes with the EU – it is all too much. No wonder people want to ignore the "elephant in the room". Once you see all the crap on the carpet, you have to do something about it.

But one thing does come over. An organisation that deals with such a wide range of issues is effectively impossible to monitor, and if you can't do that, you can't hold it to account or control it. For that reason alone, it is time for the EU to butt out of our lives, allowing us to return things to a more human scale, that we can deal with on our own terms.

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