Give with one hand, take away with the other

There is something deeply distasteful about the European parliament posing as the consumer’s friend, with new measures to clarify airline fares in advertising, while at the same time driving up ticket prices by bringing aviation within the infamous EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
It is an emerging feature of the EU institutions that they are desperately seeking anything they can present as “consumer friendly”.  Their frenzy of self-justification can be seen in David Milliband’s half-baked idea to re-christen the EU “The Environmental Union”, cashing in on perceived public concern about climate change just at the time when many voters are starting to question the whole basis of climate hysteria.
It can be seen in the recent fanfare over EU price controls on mobile phone “Roaming” tariffs.  But of course almost any statutory price controls can be guaranteed to deliver distortions and anomalies that ultimately hurt consumers, either by reducing availability and investment, or simply by shifting margins to other products — as has happened with phone tariffs.  This has proved to be a deeply regressive move, offering lower prices to international travellers, jet-setters and MEPs, but higher prices to ordinary folk who mostly stay at home.  We are now threatened with the demise of the free-phone-contract as a direct result of EU interference in the market.
The move on airline ticket prices at first appears to have some merit.  Certainly the consumer should know what he’s really going to pay, and not discover a range of additional costs after committing to the purchase.  But here as usual we find the EU treating consumers as ignorant children rather than as grown-up consumers.  Most travellers have worked out that airline ticket prices come with a range of add-ons.  And one can sympathise with the resentment of the airline companies (especially the low-fare airlines).  They struggle to deliver low prices and good value, and then find they’re carrying the can for add-ons imposed by governments, which these days frequently come to more than the ticket price.
But the real kick-in-the-teeth is the move to include aviation in the ETS.  This, according to the headlines, will add £45 to the average family holiday.  But the ETS is the worst kind of tax — opaque, arcane, bureaucratic, volatile and unpredictable.  So we won’t know the full cost until we see it in action.  Judging by the vast problems of the ETS so far (increasing costs and bureaucracy while failing to reduce emissions), the outcome of this new impost is unlikely to be good news.

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