Monday, 28 April 2008

EU: Baffled Into Submission

Is the EU responsible for strangling small businesses as a consequence of yet more over-stringent and over-complex regulation?

Since Christopher Booker & Richard North exposed the cost of regulation to 'SMEs'* in their 1996 book Castle Of Lies, it seems nothing has changed. As Booker's article in Sunday's Telegraph describes, the bureaucrats continue to disregard the interests of the small business.

The article focuses on the case of Quatchem Ltd, an Oldham-based concern specialising in disinfectants, and the effect upon them of the implementation of the Biocidal Products Directive (98/8/EC (PDF)). As Booker explains, the main ingredient of their disinfectant products is a widely used chemical, benzalkonium chloride - However, despite the fact that it's hardly a new formulation, the directive requires Quatchem to submit a sophisticated dossier on the chemical for EU approval at huge expense.

The point at which things begin to get murky is that at which I find that the directive, according to the most recent UK document I can find, came into force here on 1 September 2006 (HSE). It is clearly stated in this document that this date is a deadline for compliance with the directive. So I have to admit to being somewhat confused as to why this is news now.

A post on the EU Referendum blog following on from Booker's article discusses the impact of the directive in some detail, expressing as they do so concern about the loss of readers to more entertaining fare:

"Who, after all, gives the proverbial fig about the intricacies of the workings of an arcane EU directive, when we can soar to the giddy heights of speculation about the current lead item [at Iain Dale's Diary] - Harriet Harman's blog password?" - EU Referendum
Not that the loss of readers as a consequence of too much detailed analysis and not enough entertainment has ever been a concern at Question That!

However, in this instance it would seem that even the stalwart EU Referendum found the whole thing "far too complicated". Blogging about EU legislation really is like going down the rabbit hole - At the beginning, things may seem quite straightforward. Sometimes, it's possible to tease it apart and come out relatively unscathed. Other times, the more time you spend reading about it, the less sense it makes!

One has to be grateful for the diligence of the likes of Christopher Booker - journalists who have devoted much of their careers to explaining the effects the EU has on our lives. And, in their own ways, the bloggers who take up the mantle, including Tim Worstall, Devil's Kitchen and of course EU Referendum, of spreading the word. However, gaps in understanding of the specifics like the one I've discussed in this post play into the hands of the pro-Europeans who're inclined to scream "tabloid Euromyths" and the like at the first criticism of the way. Unfortunately, the way these things work is so f@#king arcane that confusion is just about inevitable.

* Small & Medium Enterprises

1 comment:

TBRRob said...

I believe the complexity is quite deliberate.