Why are there European rules for Kinder Surprise eggs?

Before his lecture at the University of Flanders, Hendrik Voss reflects on European rules for surprise eggs.

The European Union’s pursuit of regulation is often criticized. Europe is said to be a bully machine. All sorts of trivial matters are organized and harmonized by the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg, while the critical challenges are hardly dealt with.

Why are there European rules for Kinder Surprise eggs?

It is true that the EU has had a hard time getting off to a good start when tackling the euro crisis, the refugee issue, or the terrorist attacks. These are very sensitive areas, as member states do not want much European involvement. They want to make their own choices, and therefore each one individually, when it comes to taxes, budgets, security services, immigration issues or foreign policy. They only want to make joint decisions if they all fully agree with them.

This rarely happens. As long as the member states remain handicapped, it will remain difficult to pursue a strong European policy in these areas. It only happens when they feel there is really no alternative. That is why, during the full euro crisis, it was decided, for example, to develop budgetary supervision and not to regulate the control of banks in each country separately. There was simply nothing else to do.

Detailed arrangements

In other areas, member states have long agreed that they no longer have the final say. When it comes to foreign trade, environmental policy, animal welfare, agriculture, consumer protection, food safety or competition policy, the decisions are made by Europe. In these and many other areas, there is usually no need for consensus to make regulations. Then of course things will move faster, and there will be more rules.

Many of these rules are already very detailed. European legislation states what exactly must be on a pack of cigarettes, and how thick the frame around the health warning should be in millimeters.

The taillight of a tractor, the design of children’s car seats, the description of chocolate, the noise of lawnmowers, the chemical composition of the paint used to color Lego blocks, or the strength of the thread that connects the eyes of a teddy bear – we can give hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples.

The core of European integration

A European law from 2008 also set minimum standards for pig protection. Under European law, each ground plant must have 1.3 square metres, which may consist of a maximum of 15% of drainage holes, which in turn may have a maximum size of 20 mm. The floor should be smooth and not slippery. The light intensity should be at least 40 lux in the barn for at least eight hours a day. This is just a small sampling of a whole host of detailed regulations to make European pig life more enjoyable.

Then there’s Kinder Surprise: the size of the inner plastic egg, which contains the toy, is regulated in Europe down to a tenth of a millimeter. And Europe demands a joint between the two halves. The two halves were separated from each other, but this is now prohibited. Every egg looks the same, from northern Finland to the beaches of Ibiza. And there is good reason for this, which has to do with the very essence of European integration.

market with rules

The hard work European integration has always been the single market: the union is a big supermarket, where businesses can operate everywhere, consumers can look across borders, and services and goods can be offered everywhere without obstacles. There has always been a broad consensus between left and right in the history of European integration that this has been beneficial.

Compared to the closed and fragmented markets of the past, the European single market has brought many benefits: consumers have more choices and often pay lower prices, while companies can operate at lower cost because they can instantly sell their services and goods across the union, without hassles, prices or additional checks. It is difficult to quantify precisely, but it is generally assumed that the single market led to more jobs and economic growth.

There is some grumbling on the left that it’s the big companies that benefit most from such a single market – and it’s no coincidence that they lobbied so hard for it. At the same time, people on the right grumble about the many rules that the same companies have to comply with.

However, these rules are closely related to a single market. Then Jacques Delorsa French socialist, became president of the European Commission in 1985, and his first priority was: he wanted to achieve the single market, and certainly for goods, by the end of 1992, Europe 92project. But at the same time, it was clear to Delors that this market should not be a free West, without rules. Free competition should not lead to a social or environmental graveyard, or to less consumer protection.

Whoever says A must say B

The problem is that in the European market it is very difficult to set the rules at the national level, and therefore individually. Kinder suprise reportedly appeared on Europe’s radar after an incident in one of the member states: a little kid swallowed a chocolate egg, the inner egg, the toy and everything, and that obviously ended badly. There have been calls in some member states to ban products such as surprise eggs, in which plastic toys are wrapped in chocolate. In other member states they didn’t want to go that far.

Of course, in one market it does not make sense for a product to be banned in one country, while it can be sold without any problems in another. Then the consumer can simply shop across the border. If people really want their own rules in all kinds of areas and also want to enforce them, barriers are necessary again at the borders and it must be checked whether each imported product meets its own standards. Then, of course, there was no longer a single market.

So they started discussing those eggs together. And a compromise was made: the egg was not banned, but it had to be made safer. It was agreed that the inner plastic had to be larger, so that it could no longer be swallowed. And the two halves had to be tied together from now on, because even half of an egg could cause misery. It was a compromise to be found throughout the Confederation.

In other words: one sticks to the other. If one wants to be a single market, product standards must also be agreed jointly. And before people realize it, European agreements on the quality of taillights and the recognition of food additives are also being made. Then the joint scheme replaces the separate national schemes. All those little things that are regulated at the European level are a logical consequence of the single market. They really stuck with it

Equal chances

The same is true in the area of ​​environmental policy or social protection: if companies in country A do not have to observe emission standards or social agreements regarding the right to annual leave for employees, while strict standards are applied in country B, the products of companies will become out of country B is more expensive, which is detrimental to the single market. Most people buy where it is cheap, and companies in member countries with higher standards will lose out on competition. then threatens Race to the bottom

Therefore, Delors said, a level playing field is essential. Is there broad support in Europe for animal welfare, environmental protection and social rights? Going forward, we will also be making specific agreements on this jointly. After all, if we don’t, there will be a member state somewhere that takes it less closely, and therefore cheaper, and thus causes problems for the rest.

So we are jointly establishing that workers in all member states are entitled to at least four weeks of paid vacation, that companies must adhere to very detailed environmental standards, and that floors on pig farms must be smooth, but not slippery.

holes in the field

Is the playing field perfectly even? No, because there are gaps: there are areas in which it is not possible (yet) to reach joint agreements. At the social level, there are quite a few common rules (for example on the layout of workplaces, and even on working time), but no European legislation on minimum wages. There are also no European rules on business taxation. Countries that want a high minimum wage and those tax firms at a serious level are making it hard for themselves.

In theory, member states, in the absence of European rules, could set higher standards themselves, but then they would literally be out of the market.

Because in the single market, companies tend to locate where wages are lower and where they are taxed less. After all, they can store their products anywhere, without barriers. In theory, member states, in the absence of European rules, could set higher standards themselves, but then they would literally be out of the market.

So they are more likely to compete with each other by setting wages and especially taxes as low as possible. The most effective way to stop such a decline is to regulate these matters at the European level as well. Legislation is needed for this, but many member states are not yet ready to go that far.

good reason

So it is true that the European Union is concerned with the details. But there is also a good reason for that. The single market, which is very important from an economic point of view, simply requires a combined approach to all kinds of issues. Anyone interested in the environment, game safety or the fate of farm animals can no longer rank this country by country. Because border controls are necessary again to check if the product meets its own standards. Or to check if the supplier has complied with the rules you consider important.

With so many obstacles, soon there will be no European market and Europe will be a group of highly fragmented markets, each with its own rules and standards. In practice, these become closed economies, which are generally not paradises.

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