New EU proposals could improve the quality of consumer goods in eastern Europe, but more is needed, leaders said. Several eastern EU states have complained of "food apartheid" in the past.
Leaders of four eastern and central European countries on Friday cautiously welcomed European Union proposals made in response to their concerns that consumers in their region are being sold lower-quality goods than in western EU countries.
At a summit in Bratislava attended by the leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova put forward new ways to help improve tests for comparing products to detect quality differences across borders.
The European Commission, the EU's executive body, has said it will provide €1 million ($1.1 million) to member states to improve such tests.
'No second-class consumers'
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who described the current situation as "unacceptable for citizens," called Jourova's proposals "useful" and said he was "very satisfied with what we've achieved."
But his Czech counterpart Bohuslav Sobotka, while welcoming the suggestions, said it was "just the first step."
The one-day summit aimed to reduce tensions that have arisen between the EU and several of the bloc's new eastern states over the issue of the quality of food and other consumer goods. Consumer advocates and politicians in all four countries represented at the meeting have long complained that inferior products are sold in the east in comparison with those sold in western Europe under the same label.
In February, for example, Hungary's food safety authority complained that the chocolate spread Nutella appeared "less creamy" in its Hungarian version than it did in Austria.
Slovakia's State Veterinary and Food Administration also detected significant differences in 14 of 33 products bought in Slovakia and Austria. Variations in detergents and cosmetics have also been noted by eastern EU consumer protection authorities.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has declared that, by law, "there can be no second-class consumers" in the EU and that "Slovaks do not deserve less fish in their fish fingers."
tj/sms (AP, AFP)