Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
waiting for the flight attendants to shutup with their “safety” briefing so we could take off and I could finally get a drink perusing United Airline’s Hemispheres magazine, I came across this gem about one of my favorite subjects: intellectual property.
A battle rages in the bureaucratic halls of Brussels. Can the European Union protect a Slovenian sausage?
American author and Slovenian resident, Noah Charney, details the epic struggle by a Slovenian culinary ethnographer (probably not a real thing) Dr. Janez Bogataj to have his country’s Kranj sausage sheltered from competition by the EU’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designation (probably not a real thing either).
Not far into the article the usual self-contradiction begins, as it always does when talking about intellectual property. Charney says:
It [the Kranj sausage] is similar to, but subtler than, Polish kielbasa, and unless something is done to maintain its quality for future generations, it could soon go the way of pemmican and mincemeat pie. Worse, from Bogataj’s perspective, it might continue to be copied to the point that it is indistinguishable from other, lesser sausages.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure what I’d do without mincemeat pie. Allow me to translate Charney’s contradictory statement: Kranj is a national treasure and far superior to kielbasa in every way. Given the opportunity, everyone would choose to eat it instead. But, if those stupid Poles learn how to “copy” it, then people will be unable to distinguish between their sausages and ours.
Am I missing something here?
What’s so great about this article is that it doesn’t even try to hide the true nature of intellectual property and protectionism.
To understand why a simple sausage could cause such a stink on the stage of the European Union, one must first realize what is at stake here. Designations like the PGI are more than just a matter of national pride. A source in the EU who declined to be named says the benefits extend from job preservation—production is restricted to the traditional locality and cannot be farmed out—to extra funding from the EU. “You have a hook into quite a series, within the EU, of special support programs,” the source says from Brussels, where the EU’s PGI department decides such matters. “That means a farmer or processor may get support for trading, for buying new machines or for European marketing. You normally also have a much better hook to get into promotion programs that may be publicly supported, like going to trade fairs.”
Got that? Benefits, job preservation, extra funding, support programs, and “a much better hook” are what we’re really talking about here, not the exquisite taste and lineage of a certain pig’s intestine stuffed with ground meat and spices.
Having the government protect you from competition means waddling up to the trough like so much West Country Beef™.
And just who is standing between the Kranj and total world domination? The evil Croatians, of course.
For Croatia, which has a multimillion-euro industry in a less refined style of the sausage (which sometimes even contains soy as a filler) that nevertheless goes by the name Kranj, Slovenia’s application was perceived as a threat.
Soy?! Yech! Bleh! Holy crap! I might have accidentally eaten less refined sausage. With soy!!! It’s a good thing the EU was there to protect me.
Here is the best part:
What would it mean to Bogataj if Slovenia’s bid was rejected? Should he fail, he says, his faith in the system will be shaken, because he is convinced that he has presented a rock-solid case that Kranj sausage is Slovenian. There are other Slovenian dishes that he would like to see awarded PGI status, but this could well be his last crusade: “[If we lose], of course I will not go on,” he says.
But Bogataj does not really mean what he says. He won’t suddenly realize that using the monopoly power of the state to force your will on others is immoral, or that the whole thing is just a scam wherein the EU sells PGI rights to the highest bidder.
What’s maybe harder to understand is how someone like Bogataj who grew up under Marshal Tito’s communist regime, albeit a somewhat softer one than that of the USSR, would not have already had his “faith in the system” shaken.
Perhaps he was unaware of this phrase, misattributed to Otto von Bismarck, but apropos:
Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made.