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Austerity on the side: EU hits restaurateurs with olive oil law

Published time: May 19, 2013 14:43
Edited time: June 03, 2013 04:36
Reuters / Albert Gea

Reuters / Albert Gea

As if European Union bureaucrats don’t have enough on their hands trying to extinguish financial fires raging across the broken continent, they’ve now decided to take their unlimited powers to the holy of holies: EU eateries.

Yes, at a time when harsh austerity measures, delayed retirements and high unemployment levels are pushing Europeans to vent their outrage on the cobblestone streets, Brussels decided this was the perfect time to impose strict new rules on how restaurants serve olive oil to their customers.

Starting January 1, 2014, eateries will be prohibited from serving olive oil to diners in the traditional glass jugs that have been adorning European tables since at least the Middle Ages. Instead, cafes, bistros and brasseries will be forced to provide their patrons with pre-sealed, non-refillable containers that cannot be easily recycled when empty.

Once upon a time, Europe set the standards on environmental issues; now, it is behaving no better than Little Jack Horner, sticking its dirty fingers where they don’t belong. Yet it is trying to convince the world that it just wants to protect the health of the average EU diner, the same group of people that was physically and morally assaulted by raw austerity measures.

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the government's cost-cutting reform plans in education as part of austerity measures, during a nationwide general strike called by the education sector in Madrid May 9, 2013 (Reuters / Paul Hanna)

Remember a few months ago when the European Commission was busy disassembling the EU’s world-class welfare system in order to pay back the interest on central bank loans needed to rescue the bankers – the same scoundrels who triggered the global financial crisis in the first place? At that time, Brussels didn’t so much as bat an eyelid about the health and well being of their fellow Europeans.

Suddenly, however, EU ministers have decided to wage a war on bad hygiene and sound traditions when many Europeans can’t afford a bar of decent soap. They also say the move will help reassure what’s left of their consumer base that the olive oil found in EU restaurants has not been diluted with an inferior (Read: Less expensive) product.

No wonder that critics say the rules, aside from boosting profits of the biggest olive oil producing companies (small, private proprietors need not apply), will increase the frustration felt by many towards a Brussels bureaucracy machine that is already seen to be out of touch with the issues affecting ordinary Europeans.

"If the European Union was logical and properly run, people wouldn't be so anti-Europe,” said Marina Yannakoudakis, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament, as quoted by Reuters. “But when it comes up with crazy things like this, it quite rightly calls into question their legitimacy and judgment."

Diners sit near bottles of olive oil at a restaurant in Rome (Reuters / Dario Pignatelli)

Yannakoudakis said the new measures highlighted how out of touch Brussels’ priorities are.

Ironically, the Eurozone countries worst affected by the euro crisis - Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal – where unemployment levels are sky-high, are also the continent’s largest olive oil producers. It remains to be seen how the new legislation will affect the small olive oil producers in those already pressed economies.

German newspaper Sueddetsche Zeitung called the plan as "the weirdest decision since the legendary curvy cucumber regulation", referring to former EU rules governing the shape of fruit and vegetables found in supermarkets.

Enzo Sica, owner of Italian restaurant Creche des Artistes close to the EU quarter of Brussels, said the rules would prevent him from buying his extra virgin olive oil direct from a traditional supplier in Italy.

"They say they're thinking about consumers, but this will increase costs for us and our customers as well,” he told Reuters.“In this time of crisis, surely they should be worrying about other things rather than stupid stuff like this."

A worker checks olives before they are pressed to make olive oil (AFP Photo)

Although Brussels’ olive oil ruling isn’t quite as inflammatory as was Marie Antoinette’s unfortunate quip, “Let them eat cake,” it does adequately show that EU ministers are dangerously out of touch with the real issues now affecting millions of people across the Eurozone.

Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangers of extreme corporate power in the United States.