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The european union needs to recognize when it's time to hurry up or give up.

Many proposals still being debated within the EU were intended to harmonize different countries' rules in time for the creation of a single European market. That was in 1992. But no limit exists on how long the vast EU bureaucracy can take to mull, discuss, debate, shape and pass legislation.

A 1991 proposed directive allowing comparativeadvertising may actually become law early this year. But the latest clause inserted into the directive includes an important caveat: Each country may still ban comparative ads for specific products and services. France and other EU members continued to ban comparative advertising while the EU was working to legalize it. There is no reason to think they'll stop now. Was this worth five years of debates and amendments?

Another example: The European Union started trying to ban cigarette advertising in 1991. After five years of heated discussion, studies and lobbying, the tobacco directive hasn't even officially been called for a vote. (The EU's Council of Ministers brings it up regularly twice a year but a blocking minority prevents the measure from passing.)

Although the ad industry is obviously relieved that a tobacco advertising ban hasn't passed in Europe, action needs to be taken on hopelessly deadlocked and excruciatingly slow-moving directives. In 1995, the EU grew from 12 to 15 members and now has 11 official languages. Another dozen nations in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the Mediterranean coast are hoping for entry. Agreement on new laws will only become more difficult to achieve.

The EU should end the gridlock-set a time limit, perhaps two or three years, to pass, drop or reach a compromise on a proposed law.

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