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`Greece bans toy advertising"

A headline like this trumpeting nationalistic laws can still be seen two years after Europe supposedly became a single market.

Meanwhile, we hear about the bureaucrats in Brussels laboriously trying to figure out what the content should be in a wide-ranging green paper on communications. This is one of the first steps in the long, tortuous process of creating and passing a European Union directive with the force of law. And what we're hearing is that the bureaucrats are trying to resist the usual temptation to restrict rather than liberalize.

Still there are fears the communications green paper may create unwelcome rules for marketers, and those fears are legitimate. The EU has tried for years to push through a directive banning all tobacco advertising-so far, unsuccessfully.

Also consider this: The Greeks are not really trying to stop children from being bombarded by toy ads that create unhealthy demand; they're protecting the local toy industry. It's the same with the loi Evin in France that bans most advertising for tobacco and alcohol. This is aimed at protecting local wine makers and the government tobacco monopoly.

To its credit, the EU has persuaded Greece to refrain from enforcing two earlier attempts to ban toy ads and pleaded with France over the loi Evin (but to no avail so far). And the signs are good that the EU is going about this green paper in the right way.

The EU may have learned a lesson the hard way-from disastrous results of earlier attempts to regulate industries without consulting them. For example, the naive first draft of a data-protection directive, crucial to the direct-marketing industry, included so many restrictions on data transfer it would have been impossible to use credit cards and had to be rewritten.

This time, EU officials are carefully canvassing all those affected, soliciting comments and suggestions from marketers, agencies and the media. Thousands of questionnaires have been distributed around Europe to all the right kinds of people.

If the single market is going to work, marketers must be able to sell their products across Europe without changing ads, packaging and promotions at every border. Instead of a green paper that creates restrictions, this powerful body should use its clout to stop member states from making up protectionist laws under the guise of safeguarding their citizens and let the free market be truly free, for the benefit of all Europeans.

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