Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Will Vice Policy Break Up the EU?
Two traditional Vice Squad preoccupations, snus and international organizations (like the World Trade Organization and the European Union), are coming together in an unexpected fashion. Snus is that Swedish smokless tobacco that is illegal in the rest of the European Union, even though snus is almost surely much safer than cigarettes, which are a legal product throughout the EU. The internal free trade that the EU requires on alcohol and tobacco products threatens the established vice policies of some of the member states -- most particularly, the high-tax alcohol regime in Sweden and (formerly) in Denmark. It is this loss of control over internal vice policies that I think represents a threat to the long-term stability of both the EU and the WTO.
But more or less the opposite problem (oops -- OK, it's the same problem of vice policies threatening stability...) could lead to an EU break-up, of sorts. Aaland is a Swedish-speaking island in Finland, but it is semi-autonomous. Ferries from Aaland to elsewhere in the EU sell snus! The EU says that snus is illegal except for in Sweden, and Aaland is not in Sweden, but is in the EU. There will be a court case, but Aaland will be represented by Finland -- and Finland isn't really on Aaland's side in this controversy. So Aaland is talking about leaving the EU.
Folks, you heard it at Vice Squad first: this snus flap is the start of something much bigger. (Was this an economist making a prediction? Feel free to ignore that last bit.)