After a fairly torrid two weeks of attempted repeated bombings and the police killing an innocent man, I thought it might be helpful to have a rather lighter diary which indicates life continues very much as usual here in “old Europe”. I also have a piece of news that I think is going to be the first time you hear it.
Naked Germans

First, since this is after all the reason you are carrying on past the fold, the naked Germans. Well this is one of those good old stories about one EU country falling out with another over a fairly minor matter but it growing to a possible diplomatic incident.

The British have long had a running war with Germans over their practice of putting towels on sunbeds by the poolside of holiday hotels in Spain to reserve them. Not content with sitting on the sidelines of this Anglo-German spat, the Italians have decided to have their own two eurocents worth, as the Independent reports:

 An Italian beach etiquette guide that advises against topless bathing and consuming beer on beaches has provoked a backlash from German holidaymakers and the newspaper Das Bild.

The guide has been issued by the Italian Union of Bathing Establishments (SIB). It consists of a series of “suggestions” for good behaviour on beaches, some of which critics allege are targeted at northern European holiday habits. As well as nudity and drinking, the tourists’ habit of hanging clothes from seaside umbrellas is also frowned upon.

Yesterday’s Bild claimed that the Italian authorities “want to ruin our holidays” by banning German tourists from such practices.

A war of words erupted as the La Stampa of Turin newspaper attacked Bild for “stigmatising the Italian summer”, by claiming there are so many rules banning activities on Italian beaches that “Germans are unable to enjoy themselves”.

Bild claimed it was bewildering for northern visitors to Italy to be faced with bans such as playing football, eating noisily, drying swimming costumes and changing outside cabins.

Chocolate Coatings

Now a British story which is the latest in the never ending fun we have in deciding what rate of VAT (purchase tax) should be charged on an item. The system is complicated because there are different rates. A special one for some very specified items but there is a “standard” rate of 17.5%, with some exempt. The two main disputes surround the exemptions of children’s clothing and food.

The clothing is determined by the clothe’s size. That means you can have a small adult paying no VAT but parents having to pay out the tax on trainers for their hefty brute of an 11 year old. The UK is not quite as bad as the USA but we also have the problem of overweight kids so there are some disputes over where the break point should be set. These are nothing tho when it comes to food. Usually these are zero rated but some count as “luxury” items and carry the full rate. Confectionery (candy) and “luxury biscuits” are taxed.

This is where the definitions really start to get fun. Frozen yoghurt is taxed when it is intended to be eaten frozen like ice cream. Fair enough. Then frozen food centres started selling ordinary yoghurt in tubs frozen to conserve them. As these are intended to be defrosted  before being eaten, they count as a zero rated basic food.

Even better, cakes are “food” and zero rated as are plain biscuits (cookies). If you wholly or partially chocolate coat a biscuit, it becomes confectionery and is taxed. Enter the great Jaffa Cake debate. These are flat dry sponges with an orange jelly on top and then  the top half coated in chocolate. They are sold packed in exactly the same way as cookies. The company that made them successfully argued that although the sponge cake was dry and biscuit like, they were in fact cakes and should be tax free. They convinced the panel by  baking one 12 inches across. That had ramification for another company making “teacakes” which have a similar sponge base but a large marshmallow on top and the whole is coated in chocolate.

All this updated version of the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” debates sound amusing but the have real economic implications and  as the Independent also reports, the dispute is how much, up to $6million the company should get back. England’s highest tax court cannot decide and have asked the EU Court to advise!    

Albert Einstein

And finally the information all you quantum physicists have been waiting for. A friend of mine has just got the commission to make what is believed to be the first major public memorial to Albert Einstein. It surprised me as well but there is not even a plaque on the Customs House he worked in.

Subject to planning permission, final design approval, funding  and technical feasibility of the installation (phew!), it should be at the Science Museum in London early next year. Based on a comment by Einstein, it will consist of a white marble plaza with a marble tree standing in it. In the marble paving under the tree will be the “indentation” of an apple. A design in the marble will encourage visitors to contemplate the presence of a higher dimension.  

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