Washing powder cartel reveals dirty laundry

The makers of Ariel, Persil and other household brands of laundry detergent were exposed as not exactly whiter-than-white earlier this month when a major price-fixing scam came out in the wash.

The makers of Ariel, Persil and other household brands of laundry detergent were exposed as not exactly whiter-than-white earlier this month when a major price-fixing scam came out in the wash.

Unilever and Proctor & Gamble were fined a combined total of over €315 dollars by EU regulators for operating a long-running cartel in eight member states. A third company, Henkel, was also involved in the scam, but escaped a fine by having revealed the sharp practices to the European Commission.

In an investigation dubbed “Purity”, the EU watchdog found that the three industry leaders aimed to stabilise market positions and coordinate prices, in clear violation of EU anti-trust rules. The fines were reduced by ten per cent in exchange for the firms’ admission that they had participated in the cartel.

Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness said the case, which was the third such cartel exposed in less than a year, has sent a clear message that the EU will not tolerate price-fixing. “It proves that market manipulation is a very real issue requiring constant vigilance. The swift and stern action of the Commission in responding to this market violation shows that the EU will do what it must to achieve a truly ‘free’ single market,” added the Fine Gael MEP.

Ferry passengers to be compensated for lost luggage

Any passenger who loses their luggage during a ferry crossing will be eligible for compensation by the carrier, under new rules agreed at the European Parliament this week.

The regulations, which have yet to be approved by member states, will improve the rights of passengers by making ferry companies liable. They will also make insurance a compulsory requirement for carriers, with a right of direct action against insurers up to a specified limit. The discussions are part of efforts by the European Commission to bring maritime passenger legislation into line with airline legislation, by establishing rights and minimum rules. These include provisions for alternative routes in case of cancellations, assitance for people with reduced mobility, and the creation of indpendent national bodies for the settlement of disputes.

Speaking from Brussels, Irish MEP Jim Higgins said he is confident that the proposals will get the green light from member states. “It’s important to ensure that passengers, regardless of how they travel, are entitled to rights and protection for their belongings. These new safeguards will give consumers a greater level of assurance, while simplifying requirements for all EU carriers,” said the Fine Gael MEP.

EU must speed reform in all dictatorships

The institutions of the EU were urged this week to use their influence to encourage democratic reform in repressive dictatorships all over the world, in an effort to stave off violent uprisings of the kind that are wreaking havoc across North Africa and the greater Arab world.

Irish MEP Gay Mitchell said the ongoing conflicts in Libya, the Ivory Coast, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen have highlighted the urgent need to promote basic human rights in the world’s remaining totalitarian régimes.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels, Mr Mitchell said the current revolutions in North Africa should not have surprised the world, as they follow decades of bubbling tension among oppressed peoples. The Fine Gael MEP, who is Chairman of the European Parliament’s working group on Human Dignity, said the EU must turn its attention to helping developing stable democracies in every troubled region of the globe.

“The suppression of human rights remains a central cause of some of the world’s current conflicts. Whilst condemning these atrocities, the challenge remains for the international community to unite in promoting constructive, peaceful conflict resolution while encouraging democratic reform,” he said.

Farmers will oppose EU plan to end fuel rebate

A proposal by the European Commission to remove existing tax reductions for the fuel used in agriculture is meeting with considerable resistance from farmers and politicians in Ireland and other EU countries. The draft plan published in early April recommends a range of changes to energy taxation, including a suggestion that farmers may face a new energy consumption tax based on carbon dioxide.

At present, Ireland is one of 17 European countries that gives tax allowances on agricultural fuel, and any new legislation on taxation would require unanimity from all member states. Speaking in Brussels this week, Ireland East MEP Liam Aylward called on other farming nations to unite in opposing the measure. The Fianna Fáil MEP, a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, said the removal of the duty rebate on agricultural fuel would cut badly into farmers’ margins, in a market already under serious stress.

“Irish farmers have already made measurable and costly moves towards greening and reducing emissions. They should not be squeezed further in the drive to meet the EU’s targets for reducing greenhouse gases,” said Mr Aylward.