A spectre is haunting Europe. Not Communism, not radical Islam, but … olive oil. Specifically, little dishes and jugs of olive oil served on restaurant tables:
The small glass jugs filled with green or gold coloured extra virgin olive oil are familiar and traditional for restaurant goers across Europe but they will be banned from 1 January 2014 after a decision taken in an obscure Brussels committee earlier this week.
From next year olive oil “presented at a restaurant table” must be in pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labelling in line with EU industrial standards.
The use of classic, refillable glass jugs or glazed terracotta dipping bowls and the choice of a restaurateur to buy olive oil from a small artisan producer or family business will be outlawed.
Further proof that big business and big government long ago decided to kiss and make up: Regulations such as these (and countless other restrictions on the processing and serving of food not just in Europe but the US and Australia and the rest of the industrialised world) serve to make the entry cost for new businesses and artisinal operations that might offer disruptively better products prohibitively high.
Unsurprisingly, Eurocrats claim the move is for the good of the citizenry:
Officials defended the ban as a protection for consumers who would know that they were getting a safe, guaranteed product with proper labelling of its origin and with tamper-proof, hygienic dispensers.
“This is to guarantee the quality and authenticity of the olive oil put at the disposal of consumers. The aim is to better inform and protect consumer. We also expect hygiene to be improved too,” said an official.
Of course. But the real question is, why do people tolerate this sort of thing? For as long as the Prick can remember the EU has been a figure of (slightly sinister) fun as never a week goes by without a report of some Brussels interdict or other providing editors with a bit of slow-news-day fodder. The old saying about freedom not being lost all at once but rather by degrees looms large, and if a jug of olive oil on a table – arguably, one of the most ancient and enduring symbols of European civilisation and gastronomy – can be made illegal, anything can.
But as with every other silly rule to come down the pike, it is easier for most to go along than it is to kick against the pricks, as it were. In her brilliant book Iron Curtain, Anne Applebaum writes about how during the Cold War, Eastern Bloc governments were able to gain a grudging complicity from their subjects by ever-so-slowly shrinking the sphere of what was permissible, and that people who just wanted to get on with their lives and feed their families had to make accomodations.
The modern day EU is not a Stalinist state – it is more Huxley than Orwell, for now at least – but it does seem to operate on very much the same totalitarian lines, albeit softer ones, whereby everything is the government’s business and woe to he or she who acts otherwise.
And like the old Stalinist bureaucracies of the East, the EU is now collapsing under the weight of its own penury and idiocy.
The sooner the better.