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Good Olde Englande — Keeps The Foot, Foregoes The Acre

  • September 13th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

beer-pint.jpgCOMMENTARY: Residual antipathy towards Europe in Britain has famously been expressed by jokes about regulation, and the European Commission has now determined to go along with the nostalgia for old ways — at least in the world of weights and measures.

It announced this week it would indefinitely extend exceptions to Europe-wide metric measures in the United Kingdom and Ireland, so they can keep on using feet and miles, yards and inches, pints for beer and milk, and troy ounces.

CHAFFING AND CHAFING

Officials at Brussels have long chafed at the cross-Channel chaffing, making their own ripostes to digs about Euro regulation.

Not long ago official denials were made about alleged rules covering the correct angle tolerances for bananas marketed in the European Union.

Banana importers actually can bend them (the bananas, not rules) as much as they like.

A little more seriously the EC has listed for demolition a set of “myths” about allegedly repressive and daft budget procedures; set out in detail at the end of this posting.

PINTS AND ACRES

As for the pints and acres …

This week’s Commission decision means that a sunset clause on non-metric measures has been scrapped, so that countries are no longer committed, by law, to phase out non-metric systems.

Therefore miles, pints and the rest may be used forever after, alongside of, here and there instead of, European standard kilometres, litres and centimetres.

The decision followed extensive public consultation, possibly over a few jars in various measures.

Official thinking on the matter came down to a dash of European large-mindedness and some hard-headed thoughts about doing business with the “Anglo Saxon” world – both within the EU, and across the Atlantic pond.

The Enterprise and Industry Commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, decided the old measures were “local without any impact to the single market and not any impediment to cross-border trade”; so they should safely be let to continue.

“Our proposal will stabilise the current application of EU law, which has worked well over 27 years,” he said.

“Extending supplementary indications indefinitely is supported by EU industry and sends a clear signal to our United States counterparts that the EU favours a trading environment free of barriers.

“In return, I hope that the USA will also accept metric-only labelled goods on its territory.

“This proposal also honours the culture and traditions of Great-Britain and Ireland, which are important to the European Commission.”

Trusting that nobody finds a whiff of the patronising in all this, in the Old Dart, it should go down well like a warm pint after a few miles ramble through the meadows.

Those meadows will actually be going the metric way; the EU has decided uncompromisingly that the fundamental commodity of a piece of the Earth will need to be universally counted within its domain.

Squire contemplating his lands eventually must give up all thoughts of acreage – the horrors of the hectare are to be faced.

OTHER LANDS

Die-hard traditional measurers can take comfort that other national governments are by their side; in fact two more sovereign countries have never adopted metric measurements: Liberia and Myanmar.

For the record Australia commenced making the metrics move after a Parliamentary Select Committee decided on it forty years ago.

The change process got under way in the 1970s, and despite some headaches over cricket pitches, the Melbourne Cup and 600-mil milk cartons, folks worked it out; it was to all intents and purposes completed by 1980.

(A typical tip: going along at 100 kph, multiply by six, which gives 60 as the first two digits, and that’s the old 60 mph).

Admittedly Australia had come in a little way behind the measurements front runner France, which moved to the times-ten system – notoriously — in the 1780s.

BUDGET RULES

The new Brussels-British understanding on measures may sweeten the climate for deals involving that other set of measured values: dollars, Euros and Pounds.

Where the European Commission was until this week pursuing a regulatory Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) against the UK, it has recommended that it should now be abrogated, due to improved compliance with EU budgetary standards.

“Its budget deficit for the financial year 2006-07 fell below 3% of GDP, due to an improvement in the structural balance.

“Further fiscal consolidation is forecast in 2007-08 and 2008-09,” the Commission said.

MYTH BUSTING

Back to the attack (or defensive litany) on myths about Brussels and its budget controls; these “EU Budget facts and myths” were published at the European Commission ( 12 .9.07):

Myth 1: “EU Budget is decided undemocratically by eurocrats in Brussels and spent without any control”

NOT TRUE

This is the Council of Ministers (representing Member States’ governments) and the European Parliament that decide the EU budget. The process is fully democratic and transparent – starting from the Commission making its proposal of the preliminary draft budget in April/May each year to the final agreement of the Council and the Parliament in November/December.

As much as 76% of the EU expenditure is managed by Member States themselves (under so-called shared management). It is up to the European Parliament, following the judgement of the Court of Auditors and on the recommendation of the Council, to decide whether the Commission has managed EU funds correctly.

All EU institutions together (the Council, the European Parliament, the Commission, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, European Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions etc.) “cost” around EUR 5.5 cents per each Euro spent from the EU budget.

Myth 2: “The size of EU budget exploded because of the recent enlargement to Eastern-Central Europe”

NOT TRUE

The relative size of the EU budget decreased substantially in the recent years: from 1,05% of EU Gross National Income (GNI) on average over the period 1993-1999 to only 0,94% of EU GNI on average over 2000-2006.

1n 2005, the last year for which data are available at this stage, the countries that joined in 2004 were allocated EUR 9,1 billion or 9,4% of the total for the EU-25.

Myth 3: “The structure of the EU budget has not changed in the last twenty years and most of the money is wasted on the CAP”

NOT TRUE

In the first year of the first ever EU financial framework (1988-1992), the agriculture expenditure represented nearly 61% of the budget. By 2013, the share of traditional CAP spending (excluding rural development) will have almost halved (32%), following a decrease in real terms in the current financing period.

The amounts earmarked for structural action represented 17% of the EU budget in 1988. They will more than double to reach almost 36% in 2013.

Funding for other policies (mainly related to competitiveness, external actions and rural development) was originally very limited – they represented around 7% twenty years ago. The new emphasis on economic development and competitiveness will see the share of such policies rise to 26% of EU spending in 2013.

Myth 4: “Each citizen has to contribute over EUR 1000 annually to the EU coffers”

NOT TRUE

The executed EU budget for 2006 was EUR 106.6 billion, which is around 2.1% of EU public expenditure. It represents around EUR 63 cents per day (not even a cup of coffee in most of the Member States) for each of the then 464 million inhabitants of EU-25. For the whole 2006 this was EUR 230 per EU citizen.

Myth 5: “There is no real accountability in the budget”

NOT TRUE

The Court of Auditors has given last year, as it did in previous years, a clean bill of health on the EU accounts. The Court confirms these accounts faithfully reflect how the EU budget was spent.

The Court also gives a separate opinion on whether all payments have been correctly processed, i.e. paid on time, the invoice properly signed, amounts paid correctly, whether the best and cheapest suppliers have been chosen, etc. The Court says it can only give positive assurance on some spending, not on the whole budget, as it has found errors in some of the payments under scrutiny.

Most of the errors found by the Court concerned EU funds under national management.

Myth 6: “The EU accounts do not meet national standards in Member States”

NOT TRUE

The EU test is much more rigorous than that of the private sector, where only book-keeping records are audited.

Sir John Bourn, the UK’s Comptroller & Auditor, has recently confirmed? that if the UK had a similar test to the European one, he might have to qualify the whole of British Central Government expenditure. In the UK some 500 accounts representing the expenditure of the British government are audited and signed off separately, with some not passing the test each year, whereas the whole of EU expenditure is subject to a single verdict.

Many experts say that the unique way the audit process for the EU accounts has been designed in the treaties, and the resulting current Court of Auditors’ methodology, do not ever allow a clean bill of health for all payments.

Reference:

European Commission, “Pints and miles will not disappear due to European Commission proposal”, IP/07/1297 (11.9.07). http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/prepack/unitmeas/uni_ms_en.htm

EC, “EU Budget, Facts and Myths”, MEMO/07/350 (12.9.07).

USMA (United States Metrics Association), “Metric Usage and Metrication in Other Countries”, http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/internat.htm#australia (13.9.07)

Picture: Pint of beer, stock.schn

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