Those of us living in the UK have become accustomed to sensational headlines in the British press warning us that the European Union (EU) is about to ban British cucumbers, sausages, cheese, church bells, street acrobats [insert food or activity of your choice]. Tracking down the relevant EU legislation to find out whether or not there is any truth in the stories is a nightmare, and they are not the easiest of documents to read and understand when you do find them. But help is at hand from an EU blog called “European Commission in the UK – Euromyths and Letters to the Editor” at http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/.
The blog covers scare stories that have appeared in the UK press, some of which go back to 1992, and explains what the situation really is and the relevant legislation.
There is a neat A-Z index at http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/euromyths-a-z-index/ so you can quickly check, for example, if the EU is about to ban bagpipes:
“As for banning bagpipes, Scots can rest assured that their favourite musical instrument is not under threat from EU proposals on noise pollution … they are designed primarily for those who work with loud machinery for a sustained period – more than 87 decibels for eight hours in a row. The law … will apply only to workers rather than audiences. If, in the highly unlikely event a bagpipe player is hired to play continuously for eight hours, and the noise created averaged more than 87 decibels, the employer would be obliged to carry out a risk assessment to see where changes can be made – tinkering with the acoustics in a hall to reduce echoes, for example. If that fails, personal protection such as earmuffs will need to be considered, but only as a last resort. Banning musical instruments is not an option. “
The blog is just one of many on the Europa website. A list can be found at Blogs of the European Commission.
The EU has launched a public beta of its new open data portal at http://open-data.europa.eu/open-data/. Open data is information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. The EU portal covers all the information that public bodies in the European Union produce, collect or pay for. At present it has 5,811 datasets of which 5,634 come from Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.
You can search the datasets by keyword and refine your results using the keywords and publishers listed on the right of the screen.
Alternatively there are options for browsing the datasets using tags and keywords. This may be easier if you are not sure of what terms to use.
Using the tags also seems to be more reliable. A search on coal production gave me one relevant dataset but the rest of the results only had production as a keyword. I was seeing sets for carrot production, production of butter, sunflower production etc. I assume that ‘coal’ had been dropped because there were so few results containing both terms. Searching on just coal reduced the number of results from around 5000 to 7, one of which was highly relevant (Primary production of coal and lignite). The other 6 covered energy production in general including coal. Browsing and narrowing down the sets using the tags does seem to be the best way of navigating the data at the moment.
Once you have identified a relevant dataset additional information such as time span and date last modified are provided together with links for downloading the data.
It’s then up to you to find a way of viewing and analysing the data!
Update 20 April 2011: This service has now moved to http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/vieshome.do
VAT number validation
If you are VAT registered and trading with companies based in the EU, this site enables you to verify the validity of a company’s VAT number. Select the Member State from the drop-down menu and enter the number to be validated.