How inferior are Western products in Eastern Europe?

The prime ministers of the four Visegrád countries have complained that Western companies are selling inferior goods under the same brand names in their countries. Laboratory tests have confirmed this, they say, demanding that the EU Commission should ensure uniform standards in the single market. In certain countries of Eastern Europe, however, the whole debate fails to take account of the reality of the situation, commentators observe.

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Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Romanians can't afford to be outraged

Romanians have good reason to refrain from complaining about lower-quality products being sold under expensive brands in their supermarkets, the Romanian service of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle explains:

“The main reason is without doubt the low buying power in Romania. ... In a country that is a huge market for secondhand products - from cars to clothes and everything in between - customers are only too happy to have at least the appearance [of high-quality products] maintained. ... No one here is interested in talking about 'secondhand' or lower quality products. Rather the idea is to maintain the illusion of equal prosperity. ... The countries of Central Europe are those that are approaching the living standards of the West. That's why they have higher standards than Romania or Bulgaria.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Support local producers

Bulgaria should help its local producers instead of attacking multinational food companies, the daily 24 Chasa advises:

“We should create a market in which local producers have a chance to win the consumers' favour. There should be more Bulgarian food producers. And incidentally, just like the multinationals these producers sell their more expensive, better quality products in countries with higher buying power. Unfortunately Bulgaria's economic policy has focussed for years on distributing money from the national budget and the EU funds to the 'right' people. If Bulgaria wants to stand up to the multinationals we must start by promoting domestic production.”

Duma (BG) /

EU not interested in quality of food products

International companies take advantage of the fact that there are no detailed quality regulations in the EU, Duma writes:

“Asked whether it was true that quality standards vary among EU member states, an EU official responded that food products must conform with EU food safety and labelling regulations. As impudent as this answer may sound, it's the truth. The labyrinth of regulations that our state agreed to and signed up for without further ado in order to join the EU boils down to food having to be safe to consume. That's it. And this is what we have allowed our high-quality local products to go to the dogs for. Products bearing the Bulgarian seal of quality BDS have become a rarity. The term 'quality' has lost its meaning, particularly in view of the Bulgarians' low purchasing power.”

Krónika (RO) /

Eastern Europe systematically swindled

The decline in quality is evident in more than just food products, columnist Eszter Bálint writes in Krónika:

“We dearly hope that there will be an end to this base deception and that we will stopped being treated like second-class consumers. ... We are convinced that this deceit concerns more than just food. It is highly likely that poorer quality washing machines and refrigerators than those produced for the West are manufactured for Eastern European markets using the same brand names. I, personally, have bought the shampoo of a well-known French cosmetics company in Romania and found that it was of poorer quality than the same product sold in the West. Things will change from one day to the next. But what we can do as simple citizens is to boycott Western goods of inferior quality.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Two-class Europe is harmful to health

Bulgaria had already complained about the inferior quality of goods it imports from the West in 2011 but back then it didn't have enough support in the EU to change anything, 24 Chasa fumes:

“For six long years nothing was done. It was only when the Slovakians held the EU presidency in 2016 that they put the issue on the agenda and received support from their neighbouring countries. On 1 January 2018 Bulgaria will take over the EU presidency and it could make uniform quality standards for food products in the EU a top priority. It's high time we stopped eating the rubbish from the West. Now that a broad coalition against this is forming we must seize the opportunity and insist that our rights be respected. A two-class Europe is already insulting enough. It shouldn't be harmful to our health on top of that.”

Sme (SK) /

Consumers can call the shots

The Slovakian daily Sme sees the complaints by Eastern Europeans about the quality of Western foods in their supermarkets as dishonest:

“If a customer wants more meat and less fat in his sausage, he can convince the producer of the need to change the recipe by not buying the sausage. You can buy sausages in other stores. ... Demanding that Brussels step in regarding this matter, as the V4 have done, is the height of hypocrisy on the part of governments that rant on about protecting their national sovereignty at every opportunity. ... It's not Coca-Cola's fault that the Central Eastern Europeans passively swig down ersatz drinks. Consumers in Western Europe aren't any smarter, they just have higher expectations. So they get better products.”

Pravda (SK) /

Food producers making money with scraps

The sales strategy of Western food producers is extremely annoying, Pravda writes:

“It's no wonder the car parks at Austrian supermarkets are full of cars with Slovakian registration plates. Products of the same brand taste different there because the contents are different. Even though companies hide behind the argument of 'tastes differing from region to region' it's hard to believe that people behind the former Iron Curtain prefer food that contains more 'e' ingredients, substitutes or artificial sweeteners. This is not about taste but money. By making cheaper products for the 55 million people living in the V4 countries companies can save themselves huge sums. But this doesn't exactly increase the citizens' trust in the EU, which is already subject to centrifugal forces. It conveys the impression that they are second-class citizens who can be fobbed off with the scraps.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

People who live in glass houses

In the same way that the Viségrad states complain about the quality of food products on their supermarket shelves, Western Europe could complain about these states' refugee policies, Lidové noviny counters:

“Does it make sense to strengthen the harmonisation of rules in one area while rejecting it in another? 'There must be a uniform quality standard for food products: the highest', said Czech Prime Minister Sobotka. That sounds very much like when EU Commission President Juncker said: 'In the EU there must be one standard for treating migrants from the Middle East: the highest.' Can the V4 push through the harmonisation of food standards while resisting the pressure to treat migrants equally? If not, we could use the same formula as Sobotka and say: if the West pulls a fast one on us with food products, we'll do the same with migrants. Or are we ready to accept quotas for migrants in exchange for better food products?”