Recent decisions by the EC and the European Court of Justice are challenging the traditional British stereotype of the EC as an interfering bureaucracy obsessed with red tape. Instead, the two rulings reveal the EU’s ability to both ensure fair competition and to help manufacturers breach new markets. Above all, these pro-trade decisions underline the EU’s value to manufacturers.

The European Court of Justice has finally brought a halt to the long running and hard fought battle over whether UK chocolate can be sold as the same product as, for example, Belgian chocolate. Italy and Spain had insisted that because British chocolate is made with a small amount of vegetable fat instead of pure cocoa butter it did not bear comparison with continental chocolate. For years they insisted it be sold as “chocolate substitute”.

Understandably, British chocolate manufacturers considered that this blunted their competitive edge in Europe. The court agreed with them – UK chocolate conforms to the 1973 directive over cocoa butter content, and so is chocolate in the eyes of the EU. Italy and Spain can no longer discriminate.

Chocolate may seem a frivolous matter for a supra-national court of justice to consider, but at heart this was a question of ensuring a fair competitive landscape for manufacturers from all EU countries. British chocolate traditionally does not sell well in the rest of Europe, precisely because of the difference in cocoa butter content. But the choice should be left to consumers and not national governments.

Meanwhile, the EC has pledged €1.4m towards the cost of a €2.8m campaign to promote European wines in the US.

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Taken as a conglomerate of wealthy and productive nations, the EU represents a powerful force in international trade – a programme of investment in developing foreign markets is well within its means and could significantly boost exports. This pooling of resources for a common cause could become one of the main external functions of the EU, with significant advantages to manufacturers.

In the UK, the EU is stereotypically lampooned as a body that issues masses of obscure directives and ties the hands of business with senseless red tape. Its recent decisions show that it can act to help manufacturers rather than hinder them.

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