Monday, February 19, 2007

EU wants everyone to do things its way

An amusing article from the FT (EU wants rest of world to adopt its rules). A European Commission paper soon to be released says the European Union should promote “European standards internationally through international organisation and bilateral agreements.” Doing so will give an advantage to European companies since it “works to the advantage of those already geared up to meet these standards”.

Yeah, good luck with that. A word to the wise: if you're trying to slip one over on someone, it's best not to announce that this is what you're trying to do.

The FT adds that the sheer size and wealth of the Union’s single market means that few corporations can afford to ignore it. “By harmonising the rules for a market boasting 500m consumers, the Union has set standards 'which partners then have to meet if they are to benefit from the single market'.”

Except, of course, that the rules for the EU really haven't been harmonized for 500 million consumers. Actual implementation of EU directives varies widely among the different EU countries, and where real harmonization would be too painful, EU directives are nebulous to the point of pointlessness. In other places (such as labor and environmental laws), EU standards place EU member states at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis their American, Chinese and Japanese competitors.

Sure, the EU is too big to ignore. But it's not big enough to truly set global standards, and as the size of its economy shrinks relative to the US, China, India and elsewhere, it will eventually be ignorable. That's why its more important to get the standards right, than to try to convince everyone else to go along with them.

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