Friday, November 21, 2008

Protective or Defective Directive?

I was out judging a schools public speaking competition last night for the National Forum on Europe, thankfully the subject was not Lisbon! All the speakers were really impressive, I remember the first time I spoke in public, the room spun around and I got my cards mixed up so I repeated about half the speech. Public speaking competitions are a good starter, but debating is much better for helping you frame an argument, think on your feet and of course the odd bit of heckling. Had some fun times in debating competitions in Tipperary, including one famous occasion where one of our team (now an esteemed member of the legal profession) managed to convince our opponents he was an adjudicator and asked them for their main arguments prior to the contest, you can imagine their surprise when he took his place on our team!

While we are still dealing with the fall out from the Lisbon Treaty defeat here in Ireland, the EU machinery in Brussels works away on a daily basis churning out reports, recommendations, opinions and directives. Many of these impact on our daily lives, but in most cases what is decided today may not affect us for many years. The EU "Community Method" is complex and slow, but it does work, having experienced it myself during my time with the EYF.

My friend Dominic encouraged me to join him in Croker on Wednesday night, it was more like Krakow or Warsaw than Dublin-the Polish fans far outnumbered the Irish and were great fun and in great voice....a nice side of EU integration even if Ireland lost 3-2

I was over in Brussels last week and got a briefing on the proposal by Commissioner Kuneva for a new consumer directive. As you can see here the Commission is saying that this directive is a great step forward. BEUC (European Consumers' Organisation) on the other hand is not so happy, raising concerns about a number of issues.

From my experience the big shift here is the move from minimum harmonisation to maximum harmonisation. This means that if passed that EU law in the areas covered by the directive will be the same in all member states. The benefits of course are that the law is consistent across the EU and where legal provisions are weak, consumers will be better protected. However where the law is stronger, maximum harmonisation could undermine hard won gains by consumers over many years. Do we really want to forgo rights just to enhance cross border trade?

Its unlikely that the directive will be passed before the European elections next June and the installation of a new Commission in the autumn of 2009, so the current proposal could fall. In any event it is a proposal to monitor because it could have a big impact on us all in the year ahead.