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Euromyths: Fact and fiction

EU law books are fat and media tales are tall

Mother of all euromyths: Bananas must not be excessively curved.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The European Union's huge body of law -- estimated at more than 80,000 pages of treaties, regulations, directives and opinions -- is often the subject of debate and rumor in the media.

The British press, in particular, has reported on EU laws that supposedly jeopardize everything from traditional Christmas lunches to the queen as head of state.

Many stories are said by officials to have resulted from complex rules being misunderstood or muddled.

"They're a lot of fun for journalists and people like to read about them," says Simon Duffin, head of EU press relations for the UK.

"I did a survey recently and found 14 stories (about EU regulations) in the last 18 months," he says. "There's usually a grain of truth to them."

Others, officials say, are completely untrue -- including the story that bananas sold within the EU must not be excessively curved.

The "bent-banana syndrome," legend has it, arose from a reporter's question at a 1992 news conference.

European officials were announcing the need to create a single market -- with single standards -- among the then-15 member states.

"Some wise cracker asked: 'What does this mean for the curvature of bananas?'" recalled one EU official. The question stuck and a myth was born.

Years on, EU realities have borne out the fallacy of the banana scare.

"Are bananas straight? No they are not," says Duffin.

In fact, officials say, most of the EU regulations are the result of standards sought by wholesalers and exporters to ensure industry standard elsewhere in the world.

"The end result is that you go down to the grocer and there are some very nice bananas on the shelves," says Duffin.

Other erroneous rules that have been reported include stipulations forcing fishermen to wear hairnets aboard their fishing boats (in fact, only general sanitary rules are prescribed) and a rule enforcing a standard length for condoms (actual efforts at standardization focus on quality of condoms, not length).
EU flags outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

There was also a story that Christmas trees would be required to be symmetrical in shape, have regularly spaced needles, identical roots and be of the same color.

The EU acknowledged a possible reason for the Yuletide myth: The Christmas Tree Growers Association of Western Europe -- an independent organization -- had drawn up a series of specifications for its own trees, aimed at enhancing their brand image.

Another euromyth warned of a union-wide ban on "traditional" pizzas.

The EU has attempted to fight back with brochure campaigns and a Web site designed to dispel some of the more insidious reports.

Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of The Sun newspaper, a right-leaning UK tabloid with almost 4 million daily readers, has said his newspaper has tried to focus on weighty issues in its European coverage.

"I think British newspapers by and large give an accurate representation of what is happening in Europe. We tend to deal with real issues, like taxes, democracy and bureaucracy in the EU."

That does not mean The Sun is not skeptical about Europe. "Our fundamental view of Europe is that it is undemocratic and bureaucratic," Kavanagh said.

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