Dutch stance continues to block progress on chocolate directive

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.4, No.24, 18.6.98, p8
Publication Date 18/06/1998
Content Type

Date: 18/06/1998

By Myles Neligan

THE Dutch government is continuing to block moves to relax the rules on the content of chocolate sold in the EU, despite the recent decision by the country's cocoa-grinding industry to drop its objections to the proposal.

An end to the long-running conflict over whether chocolate containing vegetable fats other than cocoa butter should be approved for sale throughout the EU appears as distant as ever, despite widespread speculation last week that a shift in The Hague's position was imminent.

A change of heart by the Dutch government would have paved the way for the qualified majority vote in favour which the measure needed to get through. But its decision to stand firm has forced British officials to abandon plans for an extra meeting of EU single market ministers to secure a final deal in the dying hours of the UK presidency.

Getting agreement on the proposal has so far been impossible because of opposition from a blocking minority of member states, made up of the Benelux countries plus Spain and France.

Of these, only Spain has shown signs of being ready to reconsider its position, to the surprise of many. But in a further unexpected twist, Greece has hardened its stance. EU officials say that it is not clear whether Athens would vote against the measure, but confirm that it has raised strong objections for the first time.

The Dutch cocoa-grinding industry is the largest in the EU and its decision to abandon its opposition has deprived The Hague of its traditional justification for blocking the plan.

But lingering fears over its likely impact on the port of Amsterdam, where most EU cocoa imports are delivered, and on the economies of cocoa-producing former Dutch colonies appear to have reinforced the government's reluctance to support it.

Dutch officials say The Hague may yet abandon its objections to the directive as part of an ongoing policy review launched last month after the country's elections. "All the outstanding EU issues are being reconsidered, including the chocolate directive. But it's by no means certain that there will be any relaxation of our position," said one diplomat.

Much will depend on the final composition of the new coalition government, which is due to be settled before the summer break.

Several members of the current Dutch cabinet have taken a personal stand against the directive on the grounds that it would harm the interests of cocoa-producing African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.

Subject Categories