Friday, 5 June 2009

EU: Organic production ─ group for technical advice

Mundane and boring, or raising passions? A bit of both, I suppose.

Much of what the European Union institutions do, looks sleep-inducing as soon as you glance at a headline. For example, take:


Commission Decision 2009/427/EC of 3 June 2009 establishing the expert group for technical advice on organic production, just published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 5.6.2009 L 139/29.



The Decision is based on Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, which defines objectives and principles applicable to organic production and lays down basic requirements with regard to production, labelling and control of organic products in the plant, livestock and aquaculture production.

The tasks of the expert group sound innocuous and boring enough:

Article 2
Task

The group’s task shall be to assist the Commission in:

(a) evaluating products, substances and techniques which can be used in organic production, taking into account objectives and principles laid down in Regulation (EC) No 834/2007;

(b) improving existing rules and developing new production rules;

(c) bringing about an exchange of experience and good practices in the field of organic production.


***

On the other hand, there are producers who dedicate their lives to organic production and growing numbers of consumers who swear by it.

Is it boring for them? Are they indifferent to what advice the Commission is getting?

***

There is a strange dichotomy between a general feeling that the tentacles of the European Union reach almost everywhere – among more strident anti-EU campaigners transformed into the assertion that the EU “messes up our daily lives” - and the wide-spread ignorance and lack of interest in even the basics of what the EU is and really does.

The EU has opened up new vistas for individuals to travel and to work across borders, but contrary to some beliefs it has done very little to influence the public services we get at local level (education, health, social services; taxes).

The groups affected are often much smaller.

EU legislation affects some businesses to a high degree, through internal market regulation. It is not necessarily a bad thing that regulation comes from “Brussels”, when the alternative would be to have 30 different sets of red tape from 30 different capitals.

Agriculture and fisheries are common policies, and highly regulated at that. They can almost be called planned economies, although with private producers. Here enterprises, some on a very small scale, bring individuals into direct contact with often intrusive EU regulation: forms to fill, quality requirements, subsidies, inspections etc.

The organic farmer, for instance.

But is it enough for him to know that the Commission is getting expert advice? Who is giving it? What are they saying? Which changes are they contemplating?

In these respects the EU institutions are less than transparent. Council and Commission committees and groups are highly impenetrable. Even the members’ names are guarded as state secrets.

We are still a long way from open and accessible government at European level.


Ralf Grahn