Perfecting a System of Total Control: How Brussels Regulates our Daily Lives
The European Commission in Brussels wants to protect European citizens even more effectively against danger and disease. Soon there will be a well-intended -- but mostly completely unnecessary -- regulation for every aspect of life.
Recently, the German specialty "Apfelwein" nearly lost the right to be called apple wine because it isn't made with grapes.
From a bureaucratic standpoint, the pre-pubescent subjects' efforts to play with fire -- all in the name of scientific research, of course -- were a complete success. Under an European Union regulation that goes by the code K (2007) 1567, as of March 11, 2008 only "child-safe" disposable lighters will be approved for sale in the EU. But first the lighters' "child safety" must be demonstrated in a test laboratory. Under the regulation, a lighter is deemed acceptable (that is, child-safe), if no more than 15 of 100 kids aged less than 51 months manage to light it.
There are exceptions, of course. For one thing, the regulation does not apply to higher-priced lighters. That's because the bureaucrats in Brussels are convinced no one would allow children to gain access to expensive lighters. But even the bureaucrats sometimes have their doubts about their own basis research. Now they warn that even a lighter labeled as "child-safe" in the future is "not necessarily safe for children," adding that lighters should continue to "be kept out of reach of young children."
In all seriousness, the EU's inspectors are keeping themselves busy coming up with more and more regulations to govern even the most hidden corners of human existence, and that will cover the length and breadth of the EU -- from Inari in northern Finland to Limassol on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
Current regulations already run the gamut from protections against fine dust and noise to soil conservation to protections for workers against solar radiation and protections for non-smokers. A green paper for a "smoke-free Europe" is currently under discussion. The German state of Hesse recently opposed EU bureaucrats' efforts to redefine the term "wine" so that it would exclude non-grape-derived products like its traditional Äppelwoi ("apple wine," a local take on cider). The Hessians were successful -- for now.
EU Commission President José Manual Barroso and his 26 commissioners have nothing but good intentions. Anxious to dispel their image of bureaucrats well removed from the realities of daily life, they seek to portray themselves as the guardian angels of Europe's citizens, the protectors of the old and the young, and the guarantors of a life free of danger.
Measuring the Obvious
For example, many European cities and regions, at Brussels' behest, are now developing so-called noise maps. To produce the maps, precise noise readings must be taken on every street, whether in downtown areas, in industrial zones, along railway lines or in expensive and leafy residential neighborhoods.
Some communities have already completed the mammoth project, while others are dragging their feet. All are furious about the new requirement.
"We are drowning in a sea of data," complains Munich Mayor Christian Ude. And in the end, no matter how costly the measuring process is, the results reveal what everyone has known all along: that it's louder on busy, high-traffic streets than in exclusive, villa-filled residential neighborhoods with maximum speed limits of 30 kilometers per hour.
Like Munich, many cities developed noise maps years ago. But now Brussels is dictating a new set of criteria, which means that the entire process has to be repeated from scratch. It's "a lot of bureaucracy" and "completely useless," says Ude.
The EU's self-proclaimed protectors of the general health and well-being are especially interested in food hygiene regulations. Their goal is to fully regulate the production, transport and sale of food products from the producer to the consumer's plate. Once again, the underlying concept makes perfect sense, and yet the new rules, while failing to prevent spoiled meat scandals or the excessive use of pesticides, have in fact served up all kinds of new absurdities. A Westphalian pig farmer who fattens his animals in his own forest, just as his grandfather did, runs afoul of the law if he allows the pigs' liquid manure to seep straight into the forest soil instead of draining it through standardized concrete pipes.
The Euopean Commission's Headquarters in Brussels: "I forbid, therefore I am."
Europe's "Specific Hygiene Regulations" cover every product and every producer, from "meat from hoofed animals kept as pets" to "frogs' legs and snails" and "animal fats and cracklings."
Anyone who, milk pail in hand, hopes to find fresh milk from the farm these days will have a lot of searching to do. Under Paragraph 17, Section 1 of the Animal Food Hygiene Regulation, "the sale of raw milk or cream to consumers is prohibited."
Only in exceptional cases are dairy farmers permitted to sell untreated milk to customers, and only when they are in compliance with a long list of detailed requirements regulating everything from the condition of the floors in the farmer's milking room to the material used to make his doors.
Of course, the dairy farmer mustn't forget to post a warning sign that reads "Raw milk -- Boil before consuming" in a "visible and legible manner at the selling location."
- Part 1: How Brussels Regulates our Daily Lives
- Part 2: Are Europeans Dim-Witted and Unable to Cope with Life?
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH