Friday, 14 September 2007

When the European Commission Approved UK’s Imperial Measurements

On 11 September, the European Commission allowed the UK to retain its use of imperial measurements of distance and weight indefinitely. A Directive [80/181/EEC] on the approximation of the laws of the Member States on the units of measurement (which has been applicable since 1980) harmonised the EU’s legal units of measurement in line with the international standards. According to this Directive, the UK is allowed to use exemptions but it required it to fix a date in order to phase out all its imperial measurements. Obviously, this policy was very unpopular among British people. The Commission had granted more time for the UK to complete the full transition to the metric system through derogations, but the latest derogation expires in 31 December 2009. Thus, according to the Commission’s new proposal for a Directive to amend the Directive [80/181/EEC], the UK does not have to phase out the imperial measurements by 1 January 2010. Therefore, the UK will be allowed to display pounds, ounces, pints and miles along with metric weights and measurements.

According to the Commission, its proposal was based on the results of a public consultation during a 10-week period lasting until 1 March 2007. The Commission has realised that the usage of imperial measures has no impact on the single market and does not represent an impediment to cross-border trade. Moreover, the Commission also took into account the US market. EU Vice-President Günter Verheugen said “extending supplementary indications indefinitely is supported by EU industry and sends a clear signal to our US counterparts that the EU favours a trading environment free of barriers.” According to Günter Verheugen “our proposal is designed to honour the culture and traditions of Great Britain which are important to the European Commission. People in the UK and indeed throughout the EU love the traditions that make Britain unique. There is no good reason why these imperial measures should not continue to be used and we've decided to enshrine this fact in EU law.” The UK has been fighting for a long time to keep its imperial measurements – recall Steve Thorburn who inspired the "metric martyr" movement. Steve Thoburn earned a criminal conviction in 2001 for breaching the Weights and Measures Act by selling a pound of bananas instead of its measurement in kilograms. Formerly, the EU had given the UK until 2010 to complete the full transition to the metric system and now the Commission comes up with this new proposal. It will be up to the government whether to change the measurement system. Günter Verheugen said “it is entirely up to the British Government whether to keep pints and feet and inches, and the whole miles system, but as far as the Commission is concerned there is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements.” Some have asked: since when have Great Britain’s traditions been important to the Commission? In fact, the timing of this proposal is very suspicious since Gordon Brown is under pressure to hold a referendum on the Reform Treaty. Therefore the Commission’s move has been seen as tactical – it seems that the Commission is attempting popular engagement and to achieve a positive opinion on EU among British people. Nevertheless, the British people should not be thankful to the European Commission for allow them to use their own traditional units which have been used since the Middle Ages.

It should be noted that trading only in imperial measurements is still a criminal offence in Britain, According to AFP, Neil Herron, campaign director of the Metric Martyrs Group said “really there can't be any more prosecutions. There must be a moratorium until the absolute shambles that has been created, because we are being governed by two masters, is cleared up.”

The Commission’s proposal now goes to the European Parliament and to the Council but objections seem unlikely.