Wherever two or three Eurosceptics meet to argue it out with supporters of the European Union, you may expect that at some point the conversation will turn to the curvature of bananas. The Eurosceptics will claim that EU law requires bananas not to be too bendy, while the EU supporters will insist that this is a myth put about to discredit the Union. Actually, it isn’t altogether a myth, to the extent that Commission Regulation 2257/94/EC, which came into force in 1995, provides that some bananas (so-called ‘extra class’ bananas) may not have anything more than ‘slight defects of shape’ and may not have ‘abnormal curvature’. EU supporters sometimes claim that this was repealed in 2008, but actually Regulation 1221 of 2008 does not make any reference to the above provisions.
The nature of EU regulations was more recently the subject of more unflattering commentary when the Commission proposed and then abandoned the idea of banning restaurants from using refillable jugs of olive oil.
As the future of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union is debated with more and more urgency, and as discussions about the mission of the EU also also become more common in other member states, the question is increasingly asked whether the EU ideal has become submerged in avalanches of unnecessary bureaucratic interference. This is probably at the heart of the debate in the UK, and Britain’s continuing membership may depend on the extent to which a reform of the modus operandi of the Union can credibly be offered.
In fact, the volume of EU measures with legal effect is significant. During the first four months of 2013, a total of 4,422 legal acts and decisions were issued. These range from decisions in important cases, to measures such as a regulation on safety control in cosmetics, to a restriction on the use of vitamins and food supplements.
One of the reasons why it has become difficult to convince European citizens that they should increasingly take their sense of identity from the EU is because the EU does not display great skill in producing a vision. The relatively simple mission of the original European Economic Community – bind together former enemies and create a common trading area for them – has been lost in the complexity and bureaucracy that the EU has become.
The EU is perhaps still supported by a majority of its citizens – though it is hard to say this for sure – but it is manifestly unloved by them. On top of that, it is criticised by the left for pursuing an uncritical protection of free markets, and by the right for undermining those free markets. The time has come for the European Union to take stock of its strategy and methods, and to connect if it can with those whose lives it regulates, which it may find easier to do if it can be visionary without being too ambitious. And it should stop worrying about things like how restaurants serve olive oil. It really does not need to regulate everything. Less is more.