Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Feeding the Monster: IFRA and the EU Parliament

I usually ignore the tsunami of self-serving press releases that floods the web every day, but once in a while a particularly ripe specimen gets tossed ashore like, oh, I don’t know, a chunk of ambergris.

This malodorous example floated out of the bowels of Brussels, the gigantic sphincter at the center of the European Union’s relentless and antidemocratic campaign to cover every facet of life under a thick layer of bureaucratic regulation.

It’s an IFRA press release promoting a scented show-and-tell exhibit at the European Parliament sponsored by French MEP Marielle Gallo. The blurb for “Innovation in Every Sense” uses the word “innovate” sixteen times to describe the event’s simulated smellscapes: Calabrian citrus groves, Scottish sea air, and Paris rush-hour Metro. Whatevs.

So why will a harmless sniff-and-chat event be attended by a heavyweight like IFRA president Pierre Sivac? You’ll find the real reason at the bottom of the press release: Mr. Sivac wants more EU trade protectionism for his industry:
IFRA is the global trade federation representing the fragrance industry. Over the last two years IFRA has been leading a campaign to strengthen the European legislative framework for the protection of intellectual property rights, particularly related to know-how and redress for its misappropriation. IFRA has cooperated with the EU Commission to carry out an impact assessment and is now looking forward to a legislative proposal in this area.
IFRA has been hammering this pretty hard. In January/February 2012, the UK IFRA organized another “exhibit” at the European Parliament, hosted by British MEP Julie Girling (also an attendee at this week’s event). Here’s how it’s goal was described in the group’s Summer 2012 newsletter:
The European Union has an extraordinary concentration of industries for which trade secrets are essential to compete successfully. The fragrance industry is one and would like to see an appropriate place for Trade Secrets within the European Union’s intellectual property regime, otherwise, trade secrets will continue to depend for protection on inconsistent — or non-existent — national legislation. The industry needs its defences to be strengthened to avoid creative secrets continuing to be breached by unscrupulous competitors, which will result in the bleeding of industrial innovation from the European Union and, ultimately, the compromising of the incentive to innovate and create that is the foundation of all forms of intellectual property.
If this was only about “harmonization” of EU trade secrets law, it would be just another excuse for the European parliament to excrete more regulations. But I think MEP Girling let the cat out of the bag when she told a UK IFRA luncheon, “I was pleased to host IFRA UK’s presentation in the European Parliament, focussing on the high internal standards of IFRA,” etc.

The equation is simple: IFRA will act as the EU’s regulatory enforcer and in return expects the EU to protect its member companies with new trade barriers.

You couldn’t ask for a better example of corporatism in action.

P.S. Why is increased trade secret protection such a priority? Oh, say the EU was to force labeling of all allergens or even all ingredients.

P.P.S. The venerable Capua family of Calabria makes bergamot oil. What need does an ingredient have for trade secret protection? None. But it puts a charming, suntanned Mediterranean face on a corporate power push and makes for a nice story about local community, sustainability, yadda. It takes a village . . . to sue your ass for formula duplication.

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