Friday, 24 May 2013

A storm in an olive cup

Yesterday, the European Commission announced a rather unusual U-turn on a new regulation that would have banned restaurants from serving olive oil in refillable bottles. The cave-in came after a week of media pressure that even saw the leaders of Britain and Holland weighing in on the subject at Wednesday's European Council.

The law was set to quietly enter into effect at the start of next year, and would have mandated that any olive oil served at a restaurant table be in labelled, pre-packaged bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle. It was approved by a recent vote of EU member states, with 15 out of 27 countries approving it.

This is probably a case of a kernel of a good intention morphing into a monster PR disaster. At heart this was supposed to be a labelling regulation – making sure that restaurant owners don't buy expensive bottles of labelled olive oil and then refill them with cheaper varieties once they are empty.

But it ended up covering all containers, even unlabelled glass bottles. This made less sense, given that a consumer can't be tricked by a misleading label if no label is present.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

UKIP voters demand referendum...on Eurovision

As the EU referendum debate has heated up in Britain over the past several months, the UK-based polling agency YouGov has conducted periodic surveys asking the voting public whether they want an in-out referendum, and how they would vote in it.

In this week's survey, they threw an additional query into the mix – asking the same question but replacing the ‘European Union' with the ‘Eurovision Song Contest'. The result is rather revealing.
The survey shows that if a referendum on Eurovision were held, the UK's voters would vote to leave the song contest, with only 29% voting to remain in it. Among UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters, only 13% would vote to remain in the contest.

32% of the survey's respondants said they want the government to hold an in-out referendum on Eurovision (44% said they were opposed, while 24% said they weren't sure). The majority of UKIP voters with an opinion said they want the UK to hold such a referendum.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Backtracking on Commission size

EU leaders are expected shortly to announce that they have agreed between themselves not to reduce the size of the European Commission, overruling the text of the Lisbon Treaty. The change will likely be agreed unanimously this afternoon, according to Council sources.

The treaty had originally envisioned a reduction in the college at the start of the current Commission in 2010. Large countries would have maintained a permanent seat in the college, but smaller countries would have had to rotate the remaining chairs among themselves.

Dissatisfaction with this arrangement was cited as a reason for the Irish people rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in their first referendum in 2008. Before a second referendum was held the following year, it was agreed to add a provision into the Treaty extending the existing system until the end of the current Commission in 2014 "unless the European Council, acting unanimously, decides to alter this number." The Irish passed the treaty in the second referendum.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Is Merkel to blame for Germany's Eurovision loss?

German commentators were wringing their hands on Sunday over the country’s disappointing finish at the Eurovision final Saturday night. The country came 21st out of the 26 countries performing, despite fielding well-known dance act Cascada with a radio-friendly song which the German media had predicted could possibly win.

Others in Germany had, before the final, predicted the opposite – that the high level of anti-German feeling in Europe today over the austerity regimes imposed by Angela Merkel would make it impossible for Germany to win even if they fielded the greatest song eversung by mankind.

Out of the 39 countries voting, 34 refused to give Germany any points at all. Austria, Switzerland, Israel and Albania were the only ones to award the country points, along with bailed-out Spain - which came as a surprise (but could be accounted for by the large amount of German pensioners living in Spain for retirement). Germany received a humiliating score of just 18 points, compared to 281 points for Denmark's winning entry.

The coordinator for Germany’s ARD TV network told German media on Sunday, "There's obviously a political situation to keep in mind - I don't want to say 'this was 18 points for Angela Merkel', but we all have to be aware that it wasn't just Cascada up there on stage, but all of Germany."