A series of examinations by local, food quality inspectors show that some producers sell inferior quality food products to central Europe under the same brand name. Following the revelation, the Visegrád Group is taking up the fight against double standards on food quality sold in the new Member States.
The issue surfaced after several examinations showed that food producers are delivering products to central Europe that are seemingly the same as those they are selling in western Europe but are in fact of lower quality. Slovak and Hungarian researchers turned up evidence of the dumping practice following similar tests conducted by researchers at Prague’s University of Chemistry and Technology. The university tests showed that certain packaged foods arriving in the Czech Republic may look the same as the products found on German shelves but the version sent to Prague is often of lower quality.
“Central Europeans are treated as second-class citizens in terms of the quality of food products,” said Prime Minister Orbán following the extraordinary summit of V4 countries in Warsaw last week. “Our citizens must have full and comprehensive information about the quality of food they can buy in our stores.”
Indeed, it is high time that Europe step up against these discriminative practises. They are yet another example of double standards applied to new Member States and also undermine the great European achievement of the unity of the Single Market.
Earlier this month, together with three of my colleagues in the EPP, Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz, Pál Csáky and Norbert Erdős, we submitted a written inquiry to the European Commission, demanding action on this issue.
All co-signatories emphasized that legal measures are needed in order to avoid such discriminatory practices that go against the basic ideals of the Single Market.
Based on a joint proposal from Hungary and Slovakia, the prime ministers of the Visegrad countries placed a new emphasis on achieving equal food standards across Europe, and other EU member states are jumping onboard. Ministers of Agriculture from Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Greece decided to join the initiative. While other Member States, including Estonia, have decided to run their own food standard investigations.
The issue is not new. The question of differences in food labelling, taste and quality between western and eastern EU markets has been raised by several representatives in the European Parliament over the years.
As a member of the EP’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, the issue has played on my mind for quite some time now. In fact, in the summer of 2015, I joined forces with fellow MEPs to take the issue to the European Commission in a written declaration, urging legal measures to protect the Single Market. However, the Commission failed to address the issue then. So, the latest efforts led by the Hungarian government and the Visegrad group are a welcome step.
Clearly, as Prime Minister Orbán said following the Warsaw summit, “our countries and markets are being used as Europe’s food dump”. The EU members “call on the Commission to take legislative measures that would ban such practice … that humiliates people and creates two categories of people”.
“[O]ur citizens must have full and comprehensive information about the quality of food they can buy in our stores,” the prime minister said, emphasizing that they must have the same consumer rights as their western counterparts.
Looking back over what is now nearly two years, it is no exaggeration to say that, despite the plentiful warnings of European political and professional bodies, we received only evasive answers from the Commission. In this case, Hungary keeps standing up not only for its own interests but also other member states, and will persist in calling for a response from the Commission. In absence of the necessary EU laws and appropriate frameworks, “legal guarantees…must be created by the Commission,” PM Orbán stressed.
That is the only way, if we believe in a real, single market that does not discriminate against its consumers.