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Ten EU policies that have changed Europeans' day-to-day lives

Patrick Hertzog, AFP | The European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 14, 2019.

Although Brussels is often criticised as distant and overly bureaucratic, the EU’s decisions make a key difference to the lives of every citizen of its member states. FRANCE 24 takes a look at some of its key policies of the last five years.

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Eurosceptics frequently lambast the EU by portraying it as a bureaucratic monolith that pays little attention to the concerns of ordinary citizens, as it interferes needlessly in petty affairs. However, the decisions taken in Brussels and the laws passed by the European Parliament in Strasbourg have concrete effects on Europeans’ day-to-day lives.

Here is an overview of 10 such EU policies put in place over the past five years:

Getting rid of plastic bags

In France, single-use plastic shopping bags have been banned since July 2016, whether they are free or paid for. Instead, bags must either be made of paper or reusable and thicker than 50 micrometres. Since the start of 2017, this ban has been extended to “fruit and vegetable bags”. Thus, only biodegradable or paper bags can now be used.

These French laws are a direct product of a 2015 EU directive that imposed new rules to limit the consumption of plastic bags and reduce the amount of packaging on goods. MEPs aim to reduce the average number of lightweight plastic bags used, from 90 per person over the course of the year in 2019 to 40 per person by 2025.

The right to be forgotten

As well as acting on environmental concerns, Brussels is also focused on the protection of personal data. In a 2014 decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU data protection law applies to search engines. This means that people can get companies to take down any links that violate their privacy, according to the conditions set out in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. So far Google has reviewed 91,000 removal requests, for a total of 328,000 links.

Banning roaming charges

MEPs have taken legal steps to prohibit mobile phone companies from forcing customers to pay extra when they travel from European country to another. This applies to all mobile and landline phone calls, SMS messages and the use of data services abroad.

Cheap flights and compensation for overbooking

By imposing competition laws to stop airlines from restricting fares and schedules, the EU has allowed new companies to spring up and disrupt the industry, with their “low cost” and “no frills” flights undercutting established players and forcing them to reduce prices.

Food safety

The well-known “E numbers” – preservatives, dyes, antioxidants and flavourings listed as part of food products – are subject to strict standards and tightly regulated by the EU. Before being placed on the market, any additive is rigorously scrutinised by the European Food Safety Authority to ensure that it does not present a health hazard.

In addition, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed has been set up to take any food that constitutes a health risk off the market as quickly as possible. It responds to thousands of alerts every year to deal with immediate risks, often detected in meat and fish.

Sport broadcast free of charge

EU legislation ensures that sport matches considered to be of major importance for society must be broadcast on free TV channels.

Putting more snow on ski slopes

Seeing as it’s quite a prerequisite for skiing, it’s rather a shame that snow is not always abundant on Europe’s ski slopes. The EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is funding research on snow production that includes a new snow gun that uses 15 percent less energy to produce 8 percent more snow and is also less noisy. Brussels is also supporting a project to create a weather forecasting system for the ski industry to predict the amount of snow from a week to several months in advance.

Free wifi in public areas

There are few things more frustrating than being out and about and finding it impossible to connect to the Internet. However, the EU’s WIFI4EU programme provides support to local authorities to help them provide free wifi to people passing through open-air spaces, public buildings, libraries or hospitals.

Protecting online shoppers’ rights

The EU ensures that products can be ordered without customs duties and additional taxes from other European countries and allows customers to return any product they have purchased within 14 days, without justification.

New EU rules should also come into effect over the coming years – for example, prohibiting online vendors from automatically redirecting customers to another site (on which prices are often higher), and the reduction of sometimes hefty delivery costs.

Funding films

Half of all European films are partly financed by the European Union Media Programme. In 2014, seven of the 18 films competing for awards at the Cannes Film Festival benefited from this scheme, including “Two Days, One Night” by the Dardennes brothers and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep”, winner of the 2014 Palme d’Or.

The EU also has the Creative Europe 2014-2020 programme to support culture across the continent. With a budget of €1.5 billion, this fund will support cinema, TV, music, literature, heritage and the performing arts in 38 countries and will fund 250,000 people in the culture industry.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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