European Rules Threaten Blackcurrant Farmers Feb 02

If you have ever tasted a glass Ribena, the popular household drink rich in Vitamin C, then you have sampled the high quality produce of blackcurrant growers in Norfolk. One third of the 12000 tons of British blackcurrants used in the production of Ribena (Glaxo Smith Kline) is grown in Norfolk, a constituency I represent in the European Parliament.


Unfortunately, the Big Bud Mite, a microscopic creature, acts as a vector for transmission of Reversion Virus that can devastate blackcurrant plantations and bankrupt farmers. Meothrin  (Fenpropathrine) is a safe insecticide that kills the Big Bud Mite without causing environmental damage. 


The EU, under Council Directive 91/414/EEC, evaluates pesticides and produces a positive list of those products that have been demonstrated to be safe for the environment, the user and the consumer. The European Commission is proposing to withdraw Meothrin from this list from July 2003 because, it alleges, no industry has indicated an interest in demonstrating the safety of the substance!


Meothrin could not have been authorised for use by the UK Pesticides Safety Directorate (UK PSD) in York without proof of environmental safety. Therefore, why should the EU challenge this decision years later and allow extension of use to July 2003?


There is no evidence to suggest that the application of Meothrin has precipitated environmental damage or toxic residues in the fruit. Ribena, produced from fruit treated with Meothrin, has been on the market for many years.


Therefore, is this ban on Meothrin yet another example of unnecessary interference of the European Commission  - a dictat that results in higher costs for industry and business?


The EU bureaucracy has its full share of incompetent and ill-trained staff. They waste resources and generate a mountain of paperwork that yield no added value! The “civil service culture” – overpaid, under worked and a job for life - guarantees sub-standard performance. Recruitment in the civil service, as in the private sector, should be based on merit – professional competence as well as a minimum work experience of 5 years in the private sector. Employees should be contracted for no more than 5 years and be subject to annual assessment of performance. Such selection of personnel will ensure work discipline as well as a higher quality of output. There should be no fast track for friends or national quota in recruitment.


The EU recruitment reform should also apply to Commissioners! Politicians rejected in national elections should not be rewarded with appointments as EU Commissioners. They should be chosen on professional competence and preference given to those with a distinguished private sector working experience. They should be appointed for only one term of 5 years. Furthermore, the European Commission President should not be a politician but someone with experience of successfully managing one of Europe’s largest companies.


European taxpayers and electors are eager to assess the cost and relevance of EU institutions. They should have easy access on the internet to details of expenditure of the European Commissioners, EU Foreign Country Delegations, and President of the European Parliament as well as European Parliament and European Commission offices. Similarly, details of allocations of EU subsidies e.g. CAP, Structural Funds, Cohesion Funds etc for each Member State should be readily accessible on the internet long before payments are made to facilitate public scrutiny.


Only 23% of the British electorate voted in the last European Elections in June 1999. British electors will have confidence and trust in the EU only if the EU is transparent, accountable and relevant in improving their lives. This is the challenge that elected MEPs face!