Every step the European Union takes towards integration triggers a fresh wave of Euro-myths-fishermen forced to wear hairnets, bananas made straight, double-decker buses banned. Such stories are talked up by anti-Europeans and believed by many anxious citizens. Sometimes they are even true. Sarah Helm follows the story of chocolate harmonisationby Sarah Helm / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
High in an office block, somewhere in Brussels, I am thinking about chocolate. I am thinking about Dairy Milk, about C?te d’Or and about Mini Cha Cha bars, and wondering if my chocolate is the same as your chocolate. The European Union officials I am visiting are also thinking about chocolate. But for them it is not the delicious melting brown stuff; it is a delicate subject always threatening to heap ridicule on the EU bureaucracy.
For I am investigating Euro-mythology. Euro-myths are fantastical stories which are spread-so it is said-by those scheming to undermine the European project. Here at the European commission’s Directorate General 10 (communication, information, culture, means of communication, audiovisual, and support services for the media) officials are fighting back, attempting to put the record straight for European citizens.
As if monitoring a plague, DG10 has set up a “rapid reply service” to try to scotch every myth as it breaks. “We aim to respond within 24 hours,” says the official in charge. He picks a crisp card from the top of a neatly stacked pile and puts it under my nose. Lindsay Armstrong, Media Support, it says. He then produces a fax reporting a worrying new outbreak of the chocolate Euro-myth, during a television debate in Paris this very morning. According to this myth-one of the most virulent DG 10 has ever had to fight-the commission may revive its plans to call British chocolate “vegolate”-because it does not contain sufficient cocoa fat. “You know the issue, I suppose,” he says, citing Directive 73-241 EEC 1973, on harmonisation of chocolate recipes.
Christine Verger, head of the commission’s French office, has reported to the rapid reply service that this particular myth is being revived as part of a new chocolate war between France and Britain. Both sides fear the worst from a plan to revise the original chocolate directive. The Club des Croques du Chocolat in Paris claims that France will be infiltrated by even more inferior British chocolate. British manufacturers counter that the new directive could mean that the “vegolate” threat is back.
“Katya Urgent” is scribbled on the fax from Paris. “Urgent” is underlined, and Katya Delranc, one of Armstrong’s assistants, has been dispatched to establish the truth. Along the beige corridors others are trying to do the same, telephoning officials in other DGs, or standing at whirring photocopiers which spew copies of directives and…