The European Union bends over backwards to make the lives of the EU industry and EU citizens as difficult and as expensive as possible, interfering constantly in minor details of the collective or the individual member states. EU directives were passed to favour multi national food producers baptising their chocolate products (containing only a small percentage of chocolate) as regular chocolate at the expense of small chocolate industries who produce the real thing.

Similar battles have been waged to favour German cheese producers who copied Italian Gorgonzola. French and Italian wine producers had a tough time to maintain the protection of their products in the international environment. Many traditional food products, which go back ages, have been threatened with being banned from our tables for no valid reason whatsoever.

A classic example of EU useless interference is the word icecream which is considered illegal because there is no cream in whatever they think is appropriate to call what we call an icecream. EU regulations require that each company, even with only one employee, observe certain parameters in terms of the electrical wiring in offices, fire prevention, first aid, privacy laws, ink cartridge recycling.

The list is so long you’d get sick reading it. The worst are the REACH regulations that will rule the chemical industry, and which are now under discussion.

Each of these regulations have costs and are costing offices and industries huge amounts of money as they are being forced in line with the ever stricter and ever changing requirements. Nobody was asked whether any of these regulations were desired or required.

They are just there, and they make the European industry steadily less and less competitive. Without paying a penny for lobbying, competitors of the EU are having a ball.

When it comes to doing something positive for the European industry, the bureaucracy becomes democratic and round tables are organised. Since there is always somehow and somewhere a conflict of interest, nothing is being done, and that is probably the purpose of such round tables, creating a swamp in which constructive proposals can drown.

The EU came up with an excellent idea: an EU origin marking scheme. The EU commission dutifully contacted the industries, trade unions, consumer associations and associated third countries. The results of these consultations are reported in a paper you can download from the EU website.

The paper starts by observing that its main aim is ‘to stimulate a debate of the possibilities/interests’ of such a scheme, meaning they’ll talk about it until hell freezes over and nothing will be done until there is no necessity anymore for an EU marking scheme because all products will be marked ‘Made in China’. The debate stimulation is very unlikely to alter the damaging regulations and they become law without any real discussion.

Europe has always been at war, from the time of Alexander the Great up until WWII and, thanks to the visionary men who first created the Benelux, then the EEC and now the EU, it has been possible to resolve political and commercial problems through negotiations without the tremendous bloodletting of the preceding centuries.

The main antagonists England, France and Germany have never been at peace for such a long period of time as they have since 1945. The United States of America were created through a bloody civil war.

The European Union has been created through negotiations and patience by the use of brains rather than bullets. It is there, a reality, politically and commercially, and it is maturing each and every day.

Therefore, it is more than plausible and even necessary in this context to create an origin marking scheme ‘Made in Europe’, like there is a mark of origin ‘Made in the USA’. This must and can be done without losing the national identity of each of the member state, each of which has, and wishes to maintain, its own traditions.

License plates of cars show the European flag encircling the national country mark: GB, IRL, FIN, NL, SP, B etc, with the EU stars. This tells the consumer that the product is made in the EU and specifically the country in which the symbol is registered. It could not be easier and cheaper.

Opponents (both in and outside the EU) of the ‘Made in Europe’ scheme argue that this would be discriminatory against imported products. Well that is, of course, because these opponents are mainly importers/ exporters of non-EU products and not importers/exporters of EU products.

In my view, by their opposition, they are admitting that EU products are better than non-EU products. But since we are in a, what we like to call, free economy, why don’t we let the consumer decide by giving them all the possible objective data upon which he/she can base his opinion and decision?

The EU has invested its money and its reputation in producing high quality, reliable and fashionable products, in a clean and socially sound environment. I wonder why this investment should be thrown to the wolves.

As a consumer I must be in a position to use my judgement whether to buy a cheap ‘Made in Asia’ product or a more expensive ‘Made in Europe’ product. I would be able to compare price, quality and consider environmental, political as well as social issues.

I may not want to buy a toy made in a region or country where child labour is used, or a purse from a country where women are repressed, or leather from a country where there are no environmental laws. It is not the importer or industry who should make that choice but the consumer, and the EU commission should back the consumer by giving him the opportunity to chose! That’s what democracy is all about!

The consumer should be also in a position to base his choice on whether or not the product he chooses to buy involves EU labour. If that choice is taken away from the consumer then we create discrimination rather than eliminating it.

In the leather trade, several European countries enjoy a fabulous reputation. French, Italian and Spanish leather is amongst the finest in the world. Italian shoes are considered top fashion, whereas German and British shoes are known for their traditional quality. It is only right that this is highlighted. It is an obligation to the consumer and to the producer, that this is highlighted.

Opponents say that an EU origin marking scheme is expensive to police. I believe, on the contrary, that it is not. If a consumer knows with 100% certainty that the EU products he or she buys are wholly made in the EU, he also knows that he keeps EU workers in their jobs.

Each time an EU job is lost to Asia or any other place, this costs the community a fortune in unemployment compensation and aggravates the already difficult social security situation in the West European member states. A lost job does not generate income to the state. So what costs more: to check EU origin marked products for their authenticity or to pay unemployment compensation?

Outsourcing today is a common practise. Highly esteemed brand names rely on their fame. They design products that are made anywhere. The biggest Italian shoe factory produces more shoes abroad than in Italy but because the final touch is made at home, the shoes are marked Made in Italy, which is not true.

High fashion shawls of prestigious fashion houses for which women pay a fortune are made at a low cost in China. The reputation of the brand name puts the price tag on their products and not the actual cost.

Originally an Yves Saint Laurent or Chanel product was ‘Made in France’ now it can be made anywhere. The consumer doesn’t know that and erroneously but subconsciously presumes it is still ‘Made in Europe’ and pays a premium for that.

I am sure that if you have the choice of buying a Gucci handbag ‘Made in Europe’ or a Gucci handbag ‘Made Somewhere’, you’d chose the EU bag if the price is right. Therefore, I think that origin branding ‘Made in Europe’ might slow down, stop or even invert the steady escape of jobs to the Far East.

That is what the EU Commission should have in mind: sustain Europe! That is not at the expense of non EU producers because the EU origin branding may even be an incentive for countries that have different social systems, different environmental laws etc, to conform more to the wishes of the consumers all over the world. Give him the tools and let the consumer vote through the way he spends his money.

Sam Setter