TCS Daily

Brussels Rustles

By Matthew Elliott - October 29, 2002 12:00 AM

Recycling Rubbish

At their Council meeting this month, EU environment ministers passed a directive to force member states to recycle between 55 and 80 pct of all packaging waste by December 2008. The only governments to object were the Netherlands and Belgium, both of whom called for higher targets and an earlier deadline. Different targets will be introduced for different types of packaging: 60 pct for paper, card and glass, 50 pct for metal, 22.5 pct for plastics and 15 pct for wood. Greece, Ireland and Portugal were granted an extension to 2012 for individual circumstances.

The one question never asked is whether recycling actually helps the environment. Take newspapers, for example. Politicians trumpet that recycling paper saves thousands of trees whilst conveniently forgetting that the 'saved' trees were specifically planted to make pulpwood for paper and would not have been planted had the demand not been there. Moreover, the recycling process has environmental costs too: from the exhaust fumes produced transporting the old newspapers and the recycled paper to the toxic sludge produced in the de-inking process.

These questions have led one leftwing environmentalist and former Greenpeace member to point out that if it is more environmentally friendly to dump waste in landfills we should consider doing so. In The Sceptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University 2001), Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg proves that the entire landfill requirements for the United States through the whole of this century (assuming the country doubles in population) could be met by a single landfill measuring 100 feet deep by 18 miles square which, if properly constructed, need pose no serious environmental threat.

Considering the relative populations of the US and the EU - 286 million and 373 million respectively - it would appear that (assuming we have the same waste disposal requirements) an additional depth of 30 feet would meet our needs. Seeing as the British Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has often spoken out against nimbyism in politics-'not in my back yard' syndrome-perhaps the Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Inverness West would like to volunteer his constituency. He does, after all, have the largest seat in Parliament.

The Gentleman in Strasbourg

In their Strasbourg plenary session this month, MEPs rejected a proposal from the European Commission that would have allowed pharmaceutical companies to provide "disease education information" to people suffering from AIDS, asthma and diabetes. Following the advice of the Environment Committee, MEPs overwhelmingly supported the view that the industry is incapable of providing impartial information on its medicines and that such information should only come from independent sources.

The British Labour Party's health spokesman in the European Parliament, Catherine Stihler MEP, described the proposal as a dangerous move towards US-style mass advertising. "If we open the door to direct advertising it is a slippery slope down the American road where pink pills on television advertisements offer a miracle solution to everything from baldness to chronic fatigue. Medicines are like no other product. The aim must not be to maximise sales but to ensure that the product is used appropriately."

The Labour Party should, at the very least, be given ten out of ten for consistency. In the postwar classic The Socialist Case (1957), Labour politician Douglas Jay wrote: "In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know what is better for people than the people know themselves."

Eurofighter Mk II

Comments made by a leading US defence manufacturer that Europe will become "less relevant" if defence expenditure continues to be cut back, have been seized on by European Convention members to suggest that defence procurement should be done on an EU-wide basis to achieve economies of scale.

Kent Kresa, the chairman and chief executive of Northrop Grumman, said in an interview with the Financial Times (15 October 2002): "In a defence sense, Europe will become less relevant in the world. If there is no capability, there will be atrophy." He argued that Europe lacked surveillance, intelligence, airlift and command and control equipment, "the glue that puts everything into context."

Kresa's comments have been cited by members of the 'Future of Europe' convention as evidence that the European Union should continue its policy of defence integration. Michel Barnier, commissioner for the regions and chairman of the convention's defence working group, believes that defence procurement, still nation-based, with considerable duplication, could be improved by achieving economies of scale.

Proposals for an EU procurement policy are rather undermined, however, by the latest developments in the Eurofighter project. According to Die Welt (11 October 2002), the introduction of the new combat aircraft will be delayed by at least six months due to technical problems. This means that the first planes will be operational until 2005 - nine years behind schedule.

It has also been suggested that the Ministry of Defence will cut Britain's order for 232 Eurofighter jets by more than half. Speaking to the Sunday Mirror (20 October 2002), a senior Whitehall official said: "While the Eurofighter has been delayed by production and political problems, the world has moved on." The jet was conceived in 1986 as a swift attack jet to counter Soviet bombers and fighters as well as tanks. With the end of the Cold War, the need for such planes is diminishing. Whilst the MoD will honour the firm order for 55 planes, it is understood that the 'Memos of understanding' for a further two orders of 89 and 88 jets may not be turned into firm contracts.

Freedom Furriers

With the ban on fur farming coming into effect in the United Kingdom on 1 January 2003, it was refreshing to hear the new Dutch government's announcement earlier this month that it planned to drop the ban introduced by the Social Democrats on breeding animals for their furs. In a letter to the States-General, the Dutch Parliament, the Christian Democrat agriculture minister Kees Veerman said the ban would be repealed: "While awaiting European Union regulations on the welfare of mink, we have decided not to introduce any new legislation at national level."

The repeal of the ban was strongly supported by Pim Fortuyn and may have been a motive for his killing just before the election. Let's hope-for freedom's sake-that the world's third largest mink fur producer maintains this stance despite the collapse of the coalition government and the threat of EU involvement.

Matthew Elliott is a columnist for

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