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When the law is not the law

The Sunday Telegraph reports on yet another example of the EU ‘standards’:

It was reported last week that an Austrian farmer, Johann Thiery, had been fined and threatened with prison for selling “apricot marmalade” made from a traditional Austrian recipe passed on by his grandmother. Under EU rules “marmalade” can only be made from citrus fruit. Sternly defending Mr Thiery’s punishment, a European Commission spokesman said: “The law is the law.”

Next day Pedro Solbes, the EU’s economics commissioner, was reported as defending the right of France and Germany to run up huge budget deficits, in flagrant breach of the Growth and Stability Pact. “Given the circumstances we face,” he said, “it would be unwise to follow the letter of the law.”

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14 comments to When the law is not the law

  • Charles Copeland

    The EU is bad enough without having to invent slightly cock-and-bull stories like this.

    Here is the Commission’s press release concerning the marmalade tale.

    Myth : An Austrian farmer who has sold jars of apricot marmalade made with his grandmother’s recipe has been threatened with jail because, under EU regulations, marmalade may only contain citrus fruits. (Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2003)

    Truth : A directive dating back to 1979 contains an obligation that the term ‘marmelade’ can only apply to products made from citrus fruits. The rest shall be called ‘jam’. On joining the EU in 1995, Austria chose to word its new regulations in the same way as its neighbours in Germany, where Konfitüre is the standard word for jams of all kinds, including marmalade. In southern parts of Germany and in Austria, the term Marmelade predominates instead.
    Both Denmark and Greece have arrangements to deal with the fact that, in their languages, the distinction does not exist between marmelade and jam.
    It seems that, in the Austrian case, over-zealous enforcement officials have fined a businessman for using an incorrect term. This is unnecessary anyway, because the product is primarily destined for domestic consumption.
    Most importantly, this problem relates purely to the way in which the Austrian government transposed EU law into national regulations, and has nothing to do with ‘meddling Brussels bureaucrats’.”

    The Commission’s reply is a bit convoluted, but the point is that if the Austrian legislator wishes to expand EC rules governing products intended for export to products intended for domestic consumption, that’s their business and has nothing to do with EC law as such. The culprit fell foul of Austrian domestic law, not of EU law.

    In 99.9% of cases, even most bureaucrats turn a blind eye to minor infringements of absurd regulations like these. The problem is one of bureaucracy in general, not EU law as such.

  • Ah! Thank you Charles. Knowing the truth seems to make it all so much better!!

  • R C Dean

    I refuse to believe that Austrians would act in such an authoritarian manner.

    “It seems that, in the Austrian case, over-zealous enforcement officials have fined a businessman for using an incorrect term. This is unnecessary anyway, because the product is primarily destined for domestic consumption.”

    Do the EU “export” rules contain language exempting products “intended primarily” for domestic consumption? Anything is possible, I suppose, but I would be surprised. IF not, the story is accurate as written, and the EU is trying to dodge some bad press.

    Which is more likely? Overzealous Austrian enforcers, or weaselly EU bureaucrats?

  • Simon Jester

    Does anyone else remember the EU reclassifying carrots as a fruit, for the Portugese taste for carrot marmalade?

  • Swede

    Franz Ferdinand assassinated = WW 1

    Treaty of Versaille = WW 2

    Apricot marmalade = WW 3

    For the love of all that’s holy, stop the madness.

  • Ian

    The EU is just coming up with so much BS. As any fule kno, jam goes on bread but marmalade is what you spread on toast. Nothing to do with citrus fruit.

    Intelligent legislators would therefore let manufacturers call their products by whatever name they saw fit but would prosecute the buyer who presumed to spread apricot jam on his toast. Apricot marmalade would have to be bought separately for that purpose.

  • Harry Payne

    Ian, were you to state, “jam goes on bread but marmalade is what you spread on toast” to an old acquaintance of mine, he would fix you with a Very Hard Stare…

  • Rob Read

    For gawds sake Ian don’t give the b’stards new ideas!

    P.S. Marmalade is also a good substitute for candied peal in Xmas cake, do I go to prison?

  • Charles Copeland

    R.C. Dean asks:

    “Do the EU “export” rules contain language exempting products “intended primarily” for domestic consumption? Anything is possible, I suppose, but I would be surprised. IF not, the story is accurate as written, and the EU is trying to dodge some bad press.”

    I checked out the text of the Directive in question (Council Directive 2001/113/EC of 20 December 2001 relating to fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and sweetened chestnut purée intended for human consumption – a fun read, I can tell you) and could find no reference to any distinction between products intended for export and products intended for domestic consumption.

    So you are, in fact, right. The Directive states that:

    “”Marmalade” is a mixture, brought to a suitable gelled consistency, of water, sugars and one or more of the following products obtained from citrus fruit: pulp, purée, juice, aqueous extracts and peel.
    The quantity of citrus fruit used in the manufacture of 1000 g of finished product must not be less than 200 g of which at least 75 g must be obtained from the endocarp.”

    To call any product ‘marmalade’ which does not satisfy these conditions is an infringement of the Directive — regardless of whether the product is intended ‘primarily’ for domestic consumption or for export.

    However, since the Austrian restaurant owner called his product “Original Wachauer Marillenmarmelade” (original apricot marmalade from Wachau), the courts will no doubt find him innocent, since he did not just call the stuff ‘marmalade’ as such. After all, he ‘confessed’ that it was apricot-based rather than citrus-fruit based. So what we had was a combination of ‘overzealous’ Austrian inspectors and EC food labelling legislation gone wacko.

    Thanks for your skeptical question. You were right.

    But just think of what the lawyers will earn if the Austrian court refers the matter to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling…

  • Guy Herbert

    And as any fule also no, marmalade was originally made from quinces…

    Charles and the Commission have half a point: domestic bureacrats do use the EU as an excuse for frolicks of their own. But if the EU didn’t have directly applicable regulations in the first place, they’d not have the excuse.

  • RAB

    Exactly Guy,what is the EU doing making rules about what constitutes jam or marmalade in the first place.Presumably they think they are protecting the consumer who they believe to be so stupid as to not know the difference.
    It’s the very fact that the EU has legions of people who are busy 9 to 5 thinking up non productive obstructive nonsense like this that frightens me.

  • Verity

    Me too, RAB. Why? And why can’t we find out who they are?

    An aside: I chopped my way through a jungle of EU departments, email addresses, false leads trying to find out what Chris Patten’s salary and compensation package is. When I finally reached someone – after some days – who could answer, she wrote along the lines of “Given the nature of the question, could you please tell us why you want to know?”

    Can anyone out there imagine an American employed by the Congress sending this email to an American citizen? I don’t think so.

    The haughtiness, the disdain, the Soviet authoritarianism accompanied by the subtle, shaded threat … As it happens, I’d finally found the information elsewhere, the hard way, but even if I’d still needed it, I would have written back and said, “Why do you want to know why I want to know?” This was a public servant, employed at our pleasure, provided with a salary and a pension, by the taxes levied on the EU citizenry, most of whom could think of better ways to spend their hard-earned money.

  • Un-f**kin’-believable. Just goes to show you, rules are for everyone else, and not for the people at the top of the heap.

  • And, er, why exactly do we need rules from Brussels to tell us what to call what ?

    This is beyond absurd. Isn’t there anything more important than legislating whether this should be called marmalade or jam ? Assuming it should even be legislated in the first place….

    Stupid.