PERFECTING A SYSTEM OF TOTAL CONTROL
11-30-2007, 05:55 AM
PERFECTING A SYSTEM OF TOTAL CONTROL
PERFECTING A SYSTEM OF TOTAL CONTROL
How Brussels Regulates our Daily Lives
By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp and Markus Verbeet in Brussels
November 23, 2007
One-year-old Diego didn't have a chance. Try as he would, he simply couldn't get the old "Made in China" lighter or the new "child-safe" version from France to light. Older children like Tessa, who is almost five, managed to coax a flame from the Chinese model after only three minutes. It didn't take her much longer to light the French version.
From a bureaucratic standpoint, the pre-pubescent subjects' efforts to play with fire -- all in the name of scientific research, of course -- were a complete success. Under an European Union regulation that goes by the code K (2007) 1567, as of March 11, 2008 only "child-safe" disposable lighters will be approved for sale in the EU. But first the lighters' "child safety" must be demonstrated in a test laboratory. Under the regulation, a lighter is deemed acceptable (that is, child-safe), if no more than 15 of 100 kids aged less than 51 months manage to light it.
There are exceptions, of course. For one thing, the regulation does not apply to higher-priced lighters. That's because the bureaucrats in Brussels are convinced no one would allow children to gain access to expensive lighters. But even the bureaucrats sometimes have their doubts about their own basis research. Now they warn that even a lighter labeled as "child-safe" in the future is "not necessarily safe for children," adding that lighters should continue to "be kept out of reach of young children."
The European Commission in Brussels wants to protect European citizens even more effectively against danger and disease. Soon there will be a well-intended -- but mostly completely unnecessary -- regulation for every aspect of life.
It seems only a matter of time before Brussels' compulsion to control everything is subjected to a nonsense standard, which would recognize anything that causes 25 of 100 adult EU citizens to shake their heads in disbelief for a period of at least 30 seconds as general lunacy.
In all seriousness, the EU's inspectors are keeping themselves busy coming up with more and more regulations to govern even the most hidden corners of human existence, and that will cover the length and breadth of the EU -- from Inari in northern Finland to Limassol on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
Current regulations already run the gamut from protections against fine dust and noise to soil conservation to protections for workers against solar radiation and protections for non-smokers. A green paper for a "smoke-free Europe" is currently under discussion. The German state of Hesse recently opposed EU bureaucrats' efforts to redefine the term "wine" so that it would exclude non-grape-derived products like its traditional Äppelwoi ("apple wine," a local take on cider). The Hessians were successful -- for now.
EU Commission President José Manual Barroso and his 26 commissioners have nothing but good intentions. Anxious to dispel their image of bureaucrats well removed from the realities of daily life, they seek to portray themselves as the guardian angels of Europe's citizens, the protectors of the old and the young, and the guarantors of a life free of danger.
According to the EU Commission's new "Consumer Protection Strategy Paper," the EU must demonstrate to Europe's 493 million consumers that it has their best interests in mind. This new zeal has led to many a bizarre or even completely nonsensical EU directive, even though many of the new regulations are fundamentally justified. But when taken together, they create new control mechanisms on top of old ones already notorious for their intrusiveness and inefficiency.
Measuring the Obvious
For example, many European cities and regions, at Brussels' behest, are now developing so-called noise maps. To produce the maps, precise noise readings must be taken on every street, whether in downtown areas, in industrial zones, along railway lines or in expensive and leafy residential neighborhoods.
Some communities have already completed the mammoth project, while others are dragging their feet. All are furious about the new requirement.
"We are drowning in a sea of data," complains Munich Mayor Christian Ude. And in the end, no matter how costly the measuring process is, the results reveal what everyone has known all along: that it's louder on busy, high-traffic streets than in exclusive, villa-filled residential neighborhoods with maximum speed limits of 30 kilometers per hour.
Like Munich, many cities developed noise maps years ago. But now Brussels is dictating a new set of criteria, which means that the entire process has to be repeated from scratch. It's "a lot of bureaucracy" and "completely useless," says Ude.
The EU's self-proclaimed protectors of the general health and well-being are especially interested in food hygiene regulations. Their goal is to fully regulate the production, transport and sale of food products from the producer to the consumer's plate. Once again, the underlying concept makes perfect sense, and yet the new rules, while failing to prevent spoiled meat scandals or the excessive use of pesticides, have in fact served up all kinds of new absurdities. A Westphalian pig farmer who fattens his animals in his own forest, just as his grandfather did, runs afoul of the law if he allows the pigs' liquid manure to seep straight into the forest soil instead of draining it through standardized concrete pipes.
In some cases the Brussels bureaucrats' zealous rush to implement new standards has cost ordinary citizens their livelihoods. For instance, a regulation that requires all legal cheese production facilities to have running water and electricity spells the end of many Alpine cheeses. The small dairies that traditionally make these cheeses simply cannot afford the investments needed to satisfy the Brussels requirements.
Europe's "Specific Hygiene Regulations" cover every product and every producer, from "meat from hoofed animals kept as pets" to "frogs' legs and snails" and "animal fats and cracklings."
Anyone who, milk pail in hand, hopes to find fresh milk from the farm these days will have a lot of searching to do. Under Paragraph 17, Section 1 of the Animal Food Hygiene Regulation, "the sale of raw milk or cream to consumers is prohibited."
Only in exceptional cases are dairy farmers permitted to sell untreated milk to customers, and only when they are in compliance with a long list of detailed requirements regulating everything from the condition of the floors in the farmer's milking room to the material used to make his doors.
Of course, the dairy farmer mustn't forget to post a warning sign that reads "Raw milk -- Boil before consuming" in a "visible and legible manner at the selling location."
& don't miss part 2 - Are Europeans Dim-Witted and Unable to Cope with Life?
&Alice laughed, &There's no use trying,& she said: &one can't believe impossible things.& &I daresay you haven't had much practice,& said the Queen. &When I was your age I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.&
- Lewis Carroll
&Things are seldom as they seem ... Skim milk masquerades as cream.&
- Gilbert and Sullivan (Pinafore)
At NASA, it really is rocket science, and the decision makers really are rocket scientists.
But a body of research that is getting more and more attention points to the ways that smart people working collectively can be dumber than the sum of their parts. .. Irwin Janis? &Groupthink:& is a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' striving for unanimity override realistic appraisals ? It is the triumph of concurrence over good sense, and authority over expertise.&
-John Schwartz & Matthew L. Wade
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