Champagne environmentalism: the EU bickers with itself over green mandates… oh and it's your round

The EU pays groups to lobby it, then fights with itself over what it lobbies for. Seriously.

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Champagne and leftist bureaucratic mandates. Mmm, delicious socialism...
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The Commentator
On 12 March 2012 14:01

If you had a lifetime to spare, you probably still couldn’t read every single report, tender, consultation document, fact sheet, study, legal advisory, briefing, précis, policy paper or press release from the EU Retail Forum.

With so many documents out there, at a premium cost to ‘we the people’, you’d think this would surely be an incredibly important organisation upon which the fate of humanity rests. Actually, that’s precisely what they think of themselves.

Described by their website as a ‘multi-stakeholder platform set up in order to exchange best practices on sustainability’ -  you’d be forgiven for imagining that this was some sort of green parody website. There’s enough jargon to make Dilbert blush.

But it’s not a parody. The EU Retail Forum (REAP) is in fact a project of the European Commission (EC), designed to mandate European retailers into almost 400 unrealistic  sustainability targets ranging from packing to waste management, staff training and the use of renewable energy. Some of Europe’s biggest retailers are subscribed to REAP. This includes the likes of as Asda, Ikea, Tesco and Marks and Spencer.

Ostensibly, these organisations benefit by being able to say they’re doing their job on the environmental front, while Europe-wide tenders for suppliers are subsidised by the European taxpayer. Sweet corporatism. But now for the (more) embarrassing part.

Last week the EC-backed European Environment Bureau (EEB) and the BEUC (the European Consumers’ Organisation) announced that they were leaving the Retail Forum on the grounds of ‘ineffectiveness’ and a lack of ‘binding principles’.  The BEUC’s director general went so far as to say that they would ‘refuse to legitimise the Retail Forum’ without new working mandates.

What these groups are saying is that they want more regulation, legislation and EU-imposed targets. Hilariously, we now have a situation where European Commission-sanctioned groups are attacking other European Commission-sanctioned groups on existential grounds. Will the madness never cease?

The reality is that the raison d’etre for the Retail Forum is nonsensical. It was founded on the idea of concrete commitments but in reality its purpose rests of a bed of quicksand. Multinational companies like those listed above will simply never adhere to hard-line demands from the EU on sustainability issues. These are after all, businesses, and the target-driven aspirations of the Retail Forum are inherently bad for their bottom line. They cost time, money and opting in would be to agree to a Damoclean sword teetering precariously over their heads. As if we didn't have enough employment problems in the West as it is - businesses could be forced to cut back in areas such as staffing to meet with the REAP requirements. If the EEB and the BEUC got their way, big companies would simply opt out.

But we, like the BEUC also refuse to legitimise the Retail Forum on opposing grounds. Their cautiously worded press release announcing their departure from the scheme basically implies that the Retail Forum does very little – but clearly spends a lot of money doing it. Not surprisingly, retailers and organisations that are signed up for REAP are adhering to their own targets and aspirations – instilling a voluntary approach to sustainability which is not politicised nor dictated by Eurocrats. One wonders why REAP then exists at all.

Why is the European Commission unable to act as an arbiter in this area, or rather, why should it not even try?

A recent report outlined just how much the European Union contributes to ‘green groups’ including the WWF, Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance. A significant portion of this money goes right back into lobbying both the European Commission, member states of the EU and private companies based there-in on these green and sustainability issues. Effectively, the European Commission has both a financial and political interest in propping up this unsustainable sustainability cycle.

Spending millions of pounds and euros of taxpayers’ money in outsourcing lobbying efforts upon themselves and their constituent member states is the worst kind of vested interest. In 2009/10, a total of £10.1m was given to environmental groups in the UK and by the European Union. Ironically, the EEB received the largest proportion of this, at £825.888.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance summarised that the funding of lobbying and political campaigning by governments distorts policy-making, slows evidence-based adjustments and increases political apathy. We say it’s just plain wrong.

The taxpayer should never be expected to foot the bill for mandates for private firms, nor for the lobbying that precedes these policies. Most of all, we don’t think the taxpayer should be expected to fund the creation of propaganda aimed at children. What sort of present are we really giving Timmy?

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