Into my inbox yesterday came an email from London Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford, welcoming a sensible new decision which the European Parliament has made that will give the public better information and – thanks to that better flow of information – make the relevant market work more efficiently. Just the sort of good news that liberals should trumpet: giving people power and fixing market failures.
But. And it’s a big but.
This triumph is over fruit juice labelling.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like fruit juice. Some of my best friends drink fruit juice. Heck, I even drink fruit juice myself. And I’m all for the labels on fruit juice in future being clearer, more accurate and more meaningful.
But put against the scale of the problems with the Euro, it’s pretty small beer, er… non-alcoholic drink.
It is the sort of thing that the European Union often does very well at the moment, and it is the sort of thing which is sensibly done at a European level – as common labelling and other standards across Europe means firms can export across the EU without having to put up with costly, inefficient and confusing changes in rules between countries. Simpler, uniform packaging is also often more eco-friendly packaging.
Yet the tragedy for the pro-European cause is that on the larger issues – both of bigger substance and of bigger symbolic value – Europe so often fails to deliver the goods at the moment.
After all, at a time of austerity and cuts of varying degrees right across the European Union, we’re still wasting huge amounts of money every few weeks shuttling the European Parliament back and forth between two different venues in two different countries. Some MEPs (including Sarah) have done a good job trying to trim that waste and cut the number of days when Parliament is relocated, motivated by both financial and environmental concerns. But overall the One Seat campaign is still a long way from success.
Pro-Europeans rightly get very prickly when the EU is described as if it were a huge bureaucracy imposing unwanted rules, pointing out how small its head count is – comparable to the largest local councils in England – and the rules it makes are so often called for by business which wants the same rules across countries to improve international trade. It is also fair to point out that it is often ministers from national governments who hold up improving the EU – as with the recent success in getting firms of 10 or fewer staff exempted from EU accounting rules, which MEPs had been pushing for and some national ministers resisting.
But whilst there is waste and profligacy on the scale and of the high public profile of shuttling Parliament between two locations, the reputation of the European Union isn’t going to improve much.
PS If you’re wondering why I haven’t linked to the press release, it’s because I refuse to link to such a dreadful joke about apples and strawberries. Tough.